"It made it clear to me that, 'O.K., you're not a member of this team anymore,' " said Magic, a rare frown on his face. "I had felt like I was still a part of it up to that point, but that just put the 't' on the end of retirement. The one thing Laker teams never did was go in the paper to talk about each other. That was a policy. So when I read what Byron and A.C. said, I thought. Wow! So that's the way it is. I guess I'm not a part of the team anymore.
"You know, right after that came out, Miami came to town, and [Heat center] Rony Seikaly came up to me while I was out shooting before the game and said, 'Let's go! Let's play!' And we went at each other, one-on-one, for 30 minutes, hitting, bumping, banging. And I thought to myself, Man, if Rony Seikaly, who barely knows me, can come and play me, how can my teammates, who know everything about me, say what they did? It hurt."
?His Nov. 7 announcement has had a profound effect on the life-style of many well-known athletes and celebrities in L.A. "I know from people telling me themselves, and others talking about them, that over a hundred, maybe two hundred men have changed their lifestyle regarding casual sexual contact," said Magic. "You've got to understand—I know everybody in L.A. I know the basketball players, I know the baseball players through Darryl [Strawberry] and Eric [Davis], I know all the NFL players through the Raiders and Rams, and I know all the people in the entertainment industry. See, they were living the way I was living, hanging out, that casual lifestyle. They had to change.
"But I also know many of them haven't been tested. They may have changed their habits, but they don't want to know about the virus."
?His optimistic, let-a-smile-be-your-umbrella approach to his affliction is not an act for the cameras. And he believes that the right diet and workout program, combined with a positive attitude, will enable him to ward off AIDS long enough for a cure to be found. "I do not have bad days," he said. "I don't wake up in the morning and think that I'm going to get AIDS. I don't dream bad dreams about it. If I did, I'd be giving in to the negativity. When I dream, it's usually a dream that I'm still playing basketball, so when I wake up from that, I'm a little sad. But I don't wake up and say, 'I'm going to get sick.' If it comes, it's going to come. But you know what? I'm thinking it's not going to.
"And you're thinking I'm in denial, the D-word, right? Well, I'm not. I just feel if I take care of myself and do what I'm supposed to do. I can stop it from coming on. I've always been this way, thinking positive, with a bright outlook on life. Since this has happened to me, I've met dozens of people who are living with this thing."
Some HIV-positive people have remained asymptomatic for extensive periods. Moreover, several studies indicate that exercise and diet can help an individual remain asymptomatic. Johnson has given up red meat and fried foods and loads up on unsweetened juices (carrot is a favorite), fruits, vegetables and grilled and broiled chicken and fish. "I've got my special bakery where they make the muffins with honey, and the special place where I get sugar-free pies," said Magic.
?It has been difficult, but his wife, Cookie, who is five months pregnant, has begun to deal with the negative aspects of her husband's infection. "It was tough at first, because she was not used to any kind of publicity," said Johnson. "That part was toughest on me, watching her suffer through it. The worst thing is when you're walking through an airport and suddenly you see one of those tabloid rags and it says, MAGIC'S WIFE MOVES INTO MAID'S QUARTERS. Now we can laugh about it. It's sick, but it's funny, too."
?Above all, he is taking his role as an AIDS spokesman seriously. "The further I go with this, the more I believe God picked me," said Magic. "If I didn't believe that, I'm not sure how I could go on the way I have."
And how has his role as a very public spokesman been received in the AIDS community? Larry Kramer, who founded the radical AIDS protest group ACT-UP, says that Johnson is deliberately distancing himself from the gay community by not adding any gay activists to the advisory board of the Magic Johnson Foundation, which funds programs to combat incurable diseases. "Not only is that insulting, but it's tragic," says Kramer.