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Two weeks after Magic Johnson's revelation, the sports world struggles over what to do next
Sports in general and the NBA in particular have begun, ever so gradually, to return to normal in the wake of the Nov. 7 news that one of their icons had tested positive for HIV. Even the Los Angeles Lakers have held up well, with four victories in five games, since their captain, Magic Johnson, announced his retirement after contracting the virus. Still, the impact of Johnson's disclosure has been earthquakelike—widespread and devastating at first, followed by frequent aftershocks.
At week's end, Johnson, in conjunction with the NBA, was making plans to create the Magic Johnson Foundation to raise money for AIDS research and education. The NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, NCAA and the national high school athletic federation are all expected to join with the foundation in its fund-raising efforts.
Johnson's announcement has forced sports executives, heretofore removed from the ethical concerns presented by AIDS, to address some thorny issues. Some have allied for mandatory AIDS testing of athletes; the NBA, in conjunction with its Players' Association, will soon announce a program to provide voluntary confidential testing. Dr. David E. Rogers, vice-chairman of the National Commission on AIDS—whose newest member, appointed last week by President Bush, is Johnson—has signed on with the league as a consultant to work with team physicians. NBA commissioner David Stern hopes that Rogers will be able to allay some of the fears around the league. There have been concerns raised, for example, that a bloody battle under the basket could result in an HIV-positive player's passing the virus to an opponent. But Rogers has already informed team physicians that the chances of contracting the virus through an exchange of bodily fluids while playing a sport are infinitesimal.
In the last two weeks, Johnson has been both praised for his forthrightness and excoriated for the promiscuity he detailed in his Nov. 18 SI story. The public is still struggling with labels, like hero and victim, to describe him. But Johnson is not a hero because he contracted a virus, nor is he less of a victim because of the way he was exposed to it. The heroic part for Magic can begin now, in the manner in which he brings public awareness to a worldwide scourge.
A novel deals, eerily, with an HIV-infected NBA player
He's a 12-year NBA veteran, a former first-round draft pick and the captain of his team. He has played in 10 All-Star Games, including one as a rookie. He is a former league MVP and Rookie of the Year, and he has led the league in assists. He is told that he has been infected with HIV. His wife is pregnant, and she tests negative for the virus. After his doctor informs him that he has been infected, he says, "I want to go public with this." A press conference is held, at which he announces, "Yesterday I learned that I have contracted the AIDS virus."
All these statements could be made of Magic Johnson, but they also apply to the fictional Michael Silverman, protagonist of Miracle Cure (British American Publishing. $20), a novel written by Harlan Cohen, whose first novel. Play Dead, is also set in the NBA. Miracle Cure was released on Oct. 24, two weeks before Johnson's announcement that he had tested positive for HIV. Says Coben of the extraordinary similarities between Johnson and Silverman, "It's just a very bizarre coincidence." Coben adds, "I wish my scenario had never gone beyond fiction."