May 1st, 2012 by Colin M Jarman
“SHOWTIME!” in Los Angeles – in the late 1980s and early ’90s – meant one thing and one man. Showtime was where Hollywood met the NBA. Showtime’s orchestrator was a six foot nine inch point guard who combined the dazzling showmanship of the Harlem Globetrotters with the clinical timing and precision of a brain surgeon .. albeit a globetrotting brain surgeon wearing number 32 like an “S” on his chest with his trademark beaming smile across everything he did, and a ‘baby sky-hook’ to die for.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson WAS Showtime! The three-time NBA MVP led the Lakers’ fastbreak offense on breathtakingly fast and furious raids upcourt that left opponents and fans gasping for breath at the speed, guile and sheer audacity of the seemingly choreographed progression to the net … and five NBA titles. ‘Magic’ was the NBA, he was Hollywood and he was untouchable, until …
In the fall of 1991, Showtime became ‘Show and Tell’ as ‘Magic’ Johnson, having rewritten the sporting record books, turned a new page on his life and career. He stood up in front of the world and made “The Announcement” …
When he was on the court, Earvin Johnson captivated fans with his awe-inspiring performances. He was ‘Magic’ … but on November 7, 1991, the eyes of the world turned to The Forum in Inglewood, California for reasons other than basketball. The perennial NBA All-Star held a press conference in the building in which he led the Lakers to five NBA championships to announce he was HIV-positive.
ESPN Films and NBA Entertainment look back 21 years at a moment that stunned the world with the documentary “THE ANNOUNCEMENT”.
Directed by Nelson George, “The Announcement” is narrated by ‘Magic’ Johnson, providing a unique perspective by telling the story in his own words. The documentary contains riveting insights from the people closest to him including his wife Cookie, son Andre, longtime rival and friend Larry Bird, Lakers teammates James Worthy and Kurt Rambis, former Lakers general manager Jerry West, and longtime friend and agent Lon Rosen. NBA Commissioner David Stern, former NBA star Karl Malone, and close friends Chris Rock and Arsenio Hall also share their memories of that time and insights on the character of the man who put a new face on HIV and AIDS.
Now, more than 20 years after the announcement, George gets to the core of Magic’s incredible personal journey and explores how he continues to thrive two decades later, thanks in large part to the fortitude of his wife, the vision of his friend and AIDS activist, the late Elizabeth Glaser, and the commitment of his former head coach Pat Riley.
Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened on Nov. 7, 1991, when I got the news Earvin Johnson was HIV-positive. At the time, I was a freelance writer for the Village Voice and quickly started working on a piece about the significance of Magic’s announcement. I was also a Knicks’ season-ticket holder and was at Madison Square Garden that night when coach Pat Riley led his New York squad and the visiting Orlando Magic in prayer. Riley’s talk, and the shock of the day, was so powerful that years later I could not tell you the outcome of the game. (It turns out the Knicks blew out the Magic, but I had no memory of it.)
Based on what the public knew, Magic, like thousands of other unfortunate Americans, was gonna die. This would have been my most enduring memory of HIV if fate hadn’t intervened.
Two years after Magic’s announcement, my sister Andrea made her own: she too was HIV-positive. Just as America expected to watch Magic die, so my family anticipated this daughter, sister, mother wasting away. Yet here we are, two decades later and Magic, my sister and so many others, are alive and thriving. So the journey of HIV, from death sentence and public menace, from subject of experimental drugs cocktails to manageable disease, was not just a medical story to me; it was a tangible story of overcoming. It also made the irony of Magic’s becoming the public face of HIV even deeper.
When Magic first became infected, AIDS was viewed as “the gay disease,” which was why his diagnosis was profoundly disturbing. Twenty-plus years later, AIDS is killing minority women and young gays in alarming numbers. Magic, a father, husband and national hero, has never looked like the typical “victim,” which has made him easily acceptable to mainstream America but, to some degree, misrepresented what the virus looks like. I know my sister, who has worked as an HIV activist for more than 10 years, has both resented and admired Magic, sometimes unsure if he was the right image to represent her and yet very happy his voice was so loud on her behalf. All of which is why I was so happy to be asked to work on this film about Magic’s announcement.
This is, in fact, my second film on HIV (I did the award-winning “Life Support” for HBO in 2007, starring Queen Latifah). For me, “The Announcement” is not just a look back at a fraught, unforgettable moment in U.S. history, but a vehicle for re-introducing the subject of HIV/AIDS to an audience that may not know that Americans are still getting infected and, yes, still dying from this big disease with a little name.
Magic works hard at business and health. He is not alone. Thousands of ordinary people, people like my sister, are working every day to maintain themselves. “The Announcement” is a testament to all of them.
Nelson George – director
Magic on telling his wife Cookie he was HIV-positive: “I played against the best in basketball: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird… shoot I thought that was going to be the most difficult thing to do. Those things were nothing. The most difficult thing in my life was driving from the doctor’s office to tell my wife Cookie, I had HIV.”
Magic on Cookie who forced him to live when he was ready to give up on life: “I wasn’t Magic. I was just this guy who was so devastated that he gave up on life. Cookie had to talk to me, ‘Look, you always had plans to do more than just basketball, now is your time to do those things.’”
Magic on how he felt during the press conference: “Was I scared? No question about it I was scared. I wasn’t scared to announce it; I wasn’t scared of the media. What I was scared of is… would I see them again?”
Larry Bird on his reaction to the news: “I always want to play. I always want to get to the arena, get my uniform on and get out there, but I didn’t want to that day. I wanted no part of that game that night.”
Magic on the reaction of some friends: “I would call people, ‘Let’s work out.’ They always had something to do. ‘Oh no, I can’t right now because I’ve got to get ready for the game or whatever.’ Can you imagine that? I played one-on-one my whole life and now I’m looking for someone to play one-on-one with.”
Magic on coach Pat Riley, who worked him out at Madison Square Garden, when others had shunned him: “That was the kick in the butt in a sense that I needed. It helped me to understand that there were better days ahead. He actually changed my life that day.”
For details of other recent ESPN FIlms, click on the links below:
|CATCHING HELL||Finding Steve Bartman|
|RENEE||The Renee Richards Story|
|THE DOTTED LINE||Morgan Spurlock’s look at Sports Agents|
|CHARISMATIC||Horse & Jockey Rags to Riches|
|UNGUARDED||The Chris Herren story|
|ROLL TIDE / WAR EAGLE||The Alabama/Auburn College Rivalry|
|THE REAL ROCKY||Chuck Wepner – The Bayonne Bleeder who inspired the “Rocky” films|
|GOOSE||Reece ‘Goose’ Tatum – Globetrotter and basketball pioneer|
|THE MARINOVICH PROJECT||The story behind Robo-QB Todd Marinovich (USC & Raiders)|
|THE ANNOUNCEMENT||Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson relives the day he announced to the world that he had AIDS.|
|26 YEARS: THE DEWEY BOZELLA STORY||Wrongly imprisoned for a murder, a boxer gets his first pro fight aged 52.|
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