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And I want to bring back the gold medal. I've accomplished everything in this game—from a team perspective and individually. I've won championships in high school, college and the pros. And I've won every major award there is. But I don't have an Olympic gold medal. I want it. God willing, I'll get it.
I've never been the kind of athlete who wears his religion like a shield, though I've been strong in my faith since childhood. That faith allowed my to accept the HIV infection when part of me was asking, Why me?
The answer is simple: It's God's way. He is now directing me to become a teacher, to carry the message about the dangers of AIDS to everyone. It's my job to help us all understand that the disease is bigger than we think. I hope that because of my experience people will now learn everything they need to know about the virus.
I know that I'm prepared for this new role, because I've also been a teacher in basketball. I was given the gifts to become not only an athlete but also a businessman, a thinker who could help dispel the myth that most athletes are dumb jocks who can't see beyond the next game. I'm glad that I have earned about $12 million annually in endorsement income in recent years, but I'm happier about the fact that my business success has helped so many young blacks to learn that they can become entrepreneurs, and that if they play ball, they can be both athletes and businessmen.
Now God has said to me, "You've got to let the world know that AIDS is about to become an even bigger epidemic, and you're going to have to teach again."
In everything I've done, He's directed me. This is just another way. Knowing this, how can I look at the infection as anything other than an opportunity to do something that might even overshadow my playing career? Sure, I was convinced that I would never catch the AIDS virus, but if it was going to happen to someone, I'm actually glad it happened to me. I think I can spread the message concerning AIDS better than almost anyone. I'm a super-strong person, physically and emotionally. I'll take it, and I'll deal with it. In the next couple of weeks I'll begin treatment to help prevent the deterioration of my immune system that can lead to AIDS. I have no reservations about the treatment. I'm eager to begin the process that will help me someday to beat this thing.
I had no idea how people would react to my announcement. I had hoped they would react positively, knowing that I could have tried to hide my condition rather than be up front and try to help young people, and especially blacks, to understand that AIDS is more of a threat than they can even imagine.
When I left the Forum, I didn't know that anyone outside of Los Angeles had seen the press conference. I didn't know that it had been broadcast live nationally on CNN and ESPN—and was picked up by many local affiliates of the major networks—until Cookie and I arrived home and the telephone started ringing. My friends were calling from around the country. Some of them said they were going to get tested.
Within the next few days I was floored by the media coverage of my infection and by reports that after my announcement thousands of people entered hospitals and clinics all over the nation and asked to be tested for AIDS. Hot lines were unable to answer all of the calls. Condom sales soared, as did donations to AIDS organizations.
My doctors have said that there are more than 1 million people in the U.S.—many of them black—who are infected with the AIDS virus but don't know it because they refuse to get tested. Maybe that will change soon, even though I haven't even begun my crusade, which I intend to carry all the way to the White House, where I will tell President Bush that it's time to drop the political barriers that have slowed down efforts to find a cure for the disease. Congress can expect a visit too.