Figuratively speaking, November 7, 1991 was the day the magic died in the National Basketball Association.
Named by ESPN as the seventh most memorable moment in the past 25 years, Earvin Johnson, Jr., more affectionately known as “Magic,” held a press conference to announce his retirement after testing positive for HIV.
The announcement devastated not only the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, who Johnson guided to five NBA Championships in the 1980’s, but the national and international basketball community, where he had become a beloved figure.
Prior to his announcement, the AIDS virus was associated with drug addicts and homosexuals, but Johnson acknowledged that he was infected through having multiple sexual partners during his playing career.
The virus was also widely viewed as an impending death knell to those with the misfortune of being infected, instantly turning them into social pariahs.
But it was only fitting that “Magic” began the process of destroying these stereotypes with a virtuoso performance that transcended the game.
Even with one of its brightest stars permanently on the shelf, the 1991-92 NBA season commenced according to schedule. Nevertheless, Johnson’s on-court brilliance and magnetic personality remained firmly implanted in the hearts and minds of basketball fans worldwide.
Despite not playing in a single regular season game, Johnson was voted on to the Western Conference starting lineup for the 1992 All-Star Game, his 12th selection and the former three-time Most Valuable Player humbly elected to participate.
Former teammates and opponents weren’t reluctant to voice concerns and objections about Johnson’s presence, but most relented with assurances that it didn’t present a risk and, by the end of the game, no one was upset that he was on the roster.
And how could they be?
By keeping in shape with a daily physical regimen that frequently included full-court, contact basketball, Johnson proved he was more than capable of keeping up with his All-Star teammates and counterparts.
The game ended in a 153-113 Western Conference blowout, but it was the end of the game that provided some of the most memorable moments in NBA history.
After being held scoreless since the end of the second quarter, Johnson went on a scoring spree in the game’s final minutes by making three consecutive three-pointers, tossing in one of his trademark no-look passes to Dan Majerle to add some flair to his run.
On the defensive end, the rest of the players on the floor allowed Johnson to go one-on-one with Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan, to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Johnson capped the game by taking and making an off-balance three-point shot to put the finishing touches on a stat line highlighted by 25 points, nine assists and five rebounds.
Players from both teams ran on to the court to congratulate Johnson and no one had any objections to him winning the second All-Star Game MVP Award of his career.
"When Magic announced that he was going to play, I was skeptical like everyone else, at first," said Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Clyde Drexler, who finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"But once it was confirmed that everything was safe and he was going to play, everyone in the United States who knows anything about basketball was extremely happy with today. I would much rather have Magic as MVP than myself. It's the best way to honor him and he deserves it."
Johnson provided more in-depth perspective on the message he wanted to convey at the Orlando Arena.
"People with this virus can live on -- that's the message," Johnson said.
"They can run, they can jump. Second of all, you don't have to worry about me playing. You can't get it from hugging, kissing, elbows, and high fives. Life doesn't stop because something happens to you."
And fortunately, 19 years later, life still hasn’t stopped for Earvin “Magic” Johnson.