- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

LOS ANGELES Ten years later, he is playing ball against guys half his age. He is running a small empire of theaters, coffeehouses and restaurants. And his smile the one that launched a thousand ads remains as wide as ever.
"I feel wonderful," Magic Johnson said. "Everything is great, wonderful. I celebrate life and I live every day. Every day is a holiday for me. … Nov. 7 won't be any different."
Exactly 10 years ago Nov. 7, 1991 many thought one of basketball's most dazzling players had been handed a death sentence.
He stood at a packed news conference at the Forum, the scene of his many triumphs with the Los Angeles Lakers, and announced he was retiring at 32 because he was HIV positive.
Now, he takes the AIDS cocktail combinations of medications that have kept some people with the virus from developing acquired immune deficiency syndrome allowing him to focus on his business and not just the business of staying alive.
"The medicine has done its thing; I think I've done my part," he said last week. "And God has done his part. It's mind over matter, too. I've never felt I would be sick or get sick. I thought I would be here."
Johnson wasn't just any basketball player. He was one of the best ever, revolutionizing the game as a 6-foot-9 point guard.
Just as he would change the face of AIDS around the world.
"He was just as concerned about other people as he was with himself," recalled longtime friend Lon Rosen, Johnson's agent from 1987 to 1998. "He was concerned about himself, but he said he was going to use this as a way to educate people.
"He did and continues to do so."
When Johnson made his announcement, most people didn't understand the difference between someone being HIV positive and actually having AIDS.
"I really thought, just like everybody else basically, that at a certain point it would start deteriorating his body, he would just be a shell of what he was," said Ken Turner, a close friend of Johnson's for 25 years.
That certainly hasn't been the case.
Now 42, Johnson is a most busy man. Most of his time is spent in business, where through his Johnson Development Corp. he has worked to bring economic development to troubled urban areas by opening his trademark Magic Johnson Theaters, Starbucks coffeehouses and T.G.I. Fridays restaurants.
And just last month, he added to his menu of business ventures with the purchase of the Fatburger restaurant chain.
Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, who served as a mentor of sorts to Johnson during his playing days, isn't surprised.
"He's an amazing man. I saw that immediately," Ovitz said. "I worked with him for years. I speak with him all the time. Years ago, I gave him a bunch of books and magazines to read. I set him up with some meetings. He was like a sponge.
"The end results speak for themselves. Look at what he's done."
Johnson who believes he got the AIDS virus by having unprotected sex with women exercises on a daily basis and still plays basketball. Last Friday night, he led his all-star team that includes several former NBA players against Michigan State in an exhibition game in Lansing, where his parents and Turner still live.
And Johnson is a vice president with the Lakers, for whom he coached briefly and made two comebacks since his initial retirement.
"His announcement was huge, particularly for African Americans," said Phill Wilson, the founder of the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute in Los Angeles. "The day he announced, my voice mail shut down because there were so many calls.
"His announcement showed AIDS was not just a white disease, not just a gay disease. And that was critical. He's been a remarkable role model, as a human being, an African American, a man living with the HIV."
And living in excellent health, according to Dr. Michael Mellman, Johnson's physician for the last 20 years.
"There's nothing experimental, nothing high-tech," Mellman said of Johnson's medication. "Anyone who can afford health care can afford what he's doing. He's as healthy as he looks."
Mellman declined to discuss the medication because he did not want other HIV-infected patients to change their regimen to copy Johnson's.
As for the future, Johnson has given every indication he'll continue his business endeavors.
And healthwise?
"We have no idea," Mellman said. "AIDS and the virus have only been around a couple decades. Ten years ago, we didn't know what to expect, so there were no expectations, only questions. I'll take every 10 years he gets and hope we don't get surprised along the way. And that's just because we don't know enough."
Johnson led Michigan State to the NCAA championship as a sophomore in 1979 and the Lakers to the first of their five NBA titles in the 1980s as a rookie the following year.
The capper came in the sixth game of the NBA Finals. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined with a sprained ankle, Johnson had 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a series-clinching victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.


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