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I was not trying to deceive anyone. I only wanted to make sure that the insurance company's results were correct. "Tests can be wrong," I said to Dr. Mellman, "can't they?" I started a series of sophisticated tests that weren't completed for several days. In the meantime the doctors said that I shouldn't play or even practice with the team, because they didn't know the full extent of my condition. It didn't matter to them that I felt completely healthy. I continued my regular workouts, but I added 300 to 400 long-range jump shots during several late-night sessions at the Sports Club/LA, and I ran full-court sprints and layup and suicide drills. I was trying to stay in shape because, as far as I was concerned, I was going to play again—even with the virus.
When I was first told about the infection, on October 25, I wanted to tell my wife immediately. But she was out with friends that evening—she thought I was still in Salt Lake City—and wouldn't be home until late. When she finally arrived at the house, I didn't mince words. I couldn't. How do you tell your wife that you might have infected her with a deadly virus?
Naturally she was stunned and hurt. And scared. I said she should get tested right away. Then I started to tell her that I would understand if she wanted to leave me and that I wouldn't stand in her way if she wanted a divorce, but before I could get most of the words out of my mouth, she slapped me upside the head and said I was crazy. Cookie is a very strong woman. Marrying her is the smartest thing I've ever done.
Only a few people knew about the original test results: Lon, Dr. Buss and Jerry West, Cookie and my parents back in East Lansing, Michigan. By Monday, November 4, though, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep the secret from the other people who are closest to me—my teammates. I wasn't even showing up at practice, and they were beginning to wonder if something was wrong with me other than my so-called flu. Finally, after practice last Thursday morning, coach Mike Dunleavy told the guys to be in the locker room at the Forum for a mandatory meeting at 2 p.m.
At about the same time I was informing five of my closest friends—Larry Bird, Arsenio Hall, Isiah Thomas, Pat Riley and Michael Jordan—that I was infected with the AIDS virus. Larry cried. So did Arsenic Isiah just didn't want to believe it. Pat and Michael listened in stunned silence.
I also spoke to my son, Andre. He's 10 years old and lives with his mother in Michigan. I'm not sure he understood what I was telling him, but the most important thing, I said, was that no matter what he heard about his father, I still loved him. He understood that.
Later, when I walked into the locker room at the Forum, I could see the look of concern on my teammates' faces. I tried to be upbeat—Byron Scott said I smiled just like I had every day of the nine years we've known each other—but I didn't want to waste any time. I said I had tested HIV-positive and I was retiring immediately. I also told them that they had to go on, for themselves and for me.
Until that moment I hadn't cried. But breaking the news to my teammates was the most emotional experience of this entire ordeal. Everyone was crying, including me. But I wasn't crying for myself. I haven't cried for myself at all, because now there's no fear in me. No fear of what life holds for me, and no fear of death. If I die tomorrow, next year or whenever it might be, I'll know that I've had a great life. I've lived a life that no one could have imagined for me or anyone else. It's been a fairy tale. I still often tell myself, I must be dreaming, so please, don't wake me up.
I told the fellas that this is just another challenge for me. It's Maurice Cheeks in the NBA Finals in 1980 and '83 against the 76ers. It's Larry and Dennis Johnson every time we stepped on the court against the Celtics. It's Isiah and Dennis Rodman in all those wars against the Pistons. It's Michael. It's because of all of those challenges that I'm able to face this newest challenge.
Not that being HIV-positive has been easy to accept. Not when I could easily have avoided being infected at all. All I had to do was wear condoms.