The untold truth of Magic Johnson

It takes a lot to transcend the sports world into the mainstream. On a local level or even within a nation one could pull it off, globally is a different animal —but Magic Johnson made it happen. Magic had a big reputation in the 1980s, but his 1991 HIV announcement stunned the world, and made him known everywhere. He then used his engaging personality and common sense knowledge to become one of the greatest businessmen anywhere. Let's dive deep into the Magic world and find out what we can.

His hated nickname

Earvin Johnson had no plans to be Magic. To his family, he's called Junior, as in Earvin Johnson Jr. His neighbors called him June Bug growing up. It wasn't until his sophomore year of high school that he became magical. Earvin turned in a mighty performance one game — a triple-double (double figures in points, rebounds, and assists). A local sportswriter dubbed him Magic, and a legend was born.

With his new nickname in tow, Johnson's lore grew as a high school basketball star. He attended nearby Michigan State University and led the Spartans to a national title, and then became one of the greatest NBA players ever. Everyone knew Magic. Only one problem with his famous name — his mother hated it. As a devout Christian, she considered the nickname blasphemous. She still calls her baby Junior, but she probably calls him Earvin when she's mad.

He had a tough time accepting his son

The Magical thing about Johnson is his amazing athletic ability for a man his size. Being an athlete carries a macho bravado naturally, though, and that led to a conflict with his youngest son. Magic's son E.J. is gay. The basketball star had a tough time accepting his boy for who he is. Magic said he "didn't want" his son to be gay. He took dolls from a young E.J., scolding his wife Cookie, "boys don't (play with dolls)." It took Magic some time, but now he accepts his son, "one million percent."

How Magic survived this long with HIV

Magic Johnson shocked the world when he announced he had HIV, the disease that causes AIDS. And at the time, HIV was believed by the general public to be a death sentence; it wasn't a matter of if Magic Johnson would die, it was when. Magic's longevity has more to do with misinformation than, um… Magic.

Johnson takes the same drugs everyone else takes that suffers from the disease, the trick is keeping the damaging cells in check. Magic got in early — thanks to a doctor that pioneered a new drug treatment and also treated Johnson – on a cocktail of drugs that keeps the HIV from doing anymore damage than it can. People have suffered from HIV longer than Magic and are still alive, so Magic's longevity is more to do with modern medicine and managing a healthy lifestyle than throwing money at the disease.

His diagnosis led to a lawsuit

Magic was bluntly honest about how he contracted the disease — he had lots and lots of sex. There comes a question — did Magic Johnson know he had "something" yet still have sex with people? One of his lovers thought so. In 1992, not too long after his announcement, a former partner, Waymer Moore, sued Magic claiming that he gave her the disease that causes AIDS. Magic admitted he knew the woman for a number of years, and they did indeed have sex in June of 1990, but he denied giving her the disease and didn't know if she gave it to him. The victim revealed that she knew she had the disease prior to his public announcement of HIV. The two sides reached an agreement to dismiss the case in 1993, but no financial terms were released.

He'll never know how he contracted it

In 1991 thinking, Magic Johnson's HIV announcement meant only one thing; Magic was gay. The HIV/AIDS virus was still thought of as a gay disease, despite the existence of high-profile cases that didn't involve homosexuality, like like the Ryan White story. Magic admitted that upon arrival in Los Angeles in 1979, he had sex with just about any lady that would accommodate. He denied any homosexual encounters. So how did he get HIV?

If Waymer Moore's story is true — and there's no reason to think it's not — Magic had the disease by at least June of 1990, more than a year before his official announcement. The most common rumor said Magic contracted the disease as part of a wild sex party hosted by Eddie Murphy — from a transsexual hooker.

Why has the rumor persisted? Partly, because science says that female-to-male transmission of HIV is rare — up to 20 times less likely than male-to-female transfers. There are two rumors afloat; Magic did indeed get HIV from a transsexual, but didn't know the person was transsexual, or he had a male lover. The male lover most mentioned is singer Jermaine Stewart. You know Stewart, even if you don't think you do; he sang the 1980s one-hit-wonder song "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off." Stewart died of AIDS-related complications in 1997.

The fallout with friend Isiah Thomas

Magic and Detroit Pistons star point guard Isiah Thomas were very good friends. When the two faced off in the 1989 NBA finals, they famously kissed prior to tip-off — that probably fueled the rumors years later that Magic was indeed gay. An uninformed 1990s mentality thought, "Why would a guy kiss another guy?" Ironically, it would be Thomas that helped the rumors run wild.

Magic wrote in a 2009 memoir that Isiah questioned his sexuality. The rumor was that it was Thomas who then told anyone that asked about his good friend Magic that he was indeed gay or at least bisexual — and regardless of if Isiah did spread those or not, there were repercussions. Magic admitted that he assisted keeping Thomas off the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" made up of NBA players, partly for his alleged role in spreading rumors. Years later, the two reconciled, but there's no doubt that the influential Magic played a role in keeping Thomas off the greatest collection of athletes on one sports team ever. That's a pretty steep payback for a rumor about a rumor.

He saved the NBA

It's hard to believe the NBA was at one time about as popular as professional bowling. The NBA finals were tape delayed, airing long after the game ended. What the NBA needed was stars, and drama, and by dumb luck it fell into their laps. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were already two of the biggest franchises in NBA history, and fresh off the most-watched NCAA finals in history, the 1979 NCAA championship between Magic's Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird's Indiana St. Sycamores, the two traveled to different coasts to continue the rivalry.

In the NBA, the two stars led their teams to championships, and faced off against each other for championships. Magic was fast and uptempo — a "showtime" of excitement. Bird was old school — beat you with his deadly jumpers and ability to make a shot from anywhere. And of course, one was black and one was white — which was still a big deal back then. But the two embraced the competition, and played it up in marketing as much as on the court. It worked. As much as Michael Jordan did for basketball by being that flashy superstar, Magic Johnson, by understanding the value of a rival, put the league where it is today thanks to his rivalry with Larry Bird.

Magic theaters

Magic Johnson made a lot of money playing basketball, no doubt, but he's also a savvy businessman, and it's his acute understanding of the urban community that made him more money than he imagined. Magic saw inner cities devoid of national brands, as big companies were "afraid" to enter predominantly black neighborhoods. Magic convinced places like T.G.I. Friday's to open locations in South Central Los Angeles and Harlem, and Starbucks in Atlanta. He owned 105 Starbucks at one time, and even Burger King franchises — all strategically placed in areas where others feared to tread. Johnson started his ascension into business by opening a series of movie theaters — Magic Theaters — in places where major chains wouldn't open. Magic has since sold the chain but he accomplished his goal; enrich the inner cities. Johnson's net worth is in excess of $600 million.

He is very charitable

Magic gives back in more ways than just providing shops in the inner cities and profiting off of them, he's extremely charitable. The Magic Johnson Foundation has contributed over $20 million to various charities and provided $4 million in academic scholarships. A significant portion of his donations go right back to those same communities where he provides businesses.

And then there's his HIV/AIDS awareness. Johnson didn't shy away from the disease. Instead, he spread awareness — most importantly the truth — of what it meant to have HIV and what you could and couldn't do. There were others before him with the disease who first put a face on it, but Magic showed that you can live with HIV, and his financial contributions have excelled the race to find a cure.

Nobody tweets like Magic

Magic isn't immune to criticism, however. He's done studio and color commentary for NBA games and it's been…ok. But his Twitter account, that's another story. Magic is the master of the obvious; pointing out things like one coach out-coached another — which by definition happens every game. Magic's tweets break down the complex to the benign. It's not that he's the worst at Twitter, it's just that he's the worst at Twitter.

Magic's greatest contribution to music

Magic has a bit of an old-school vibe to him. A lot of people end up liking the music they listened to in college for life, but Johnson goes a bit further than that. He sung the praises of Otis Redding, and made sure that when he went and checked out Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, everybody knew it — it may be his greatest Tweet ever. Magic Johnson Music worked in conjunction with MCA and scored R&B hits with Avant and had music management deals in place with Boys II Men in the late 90s. So obviously he likes his music, but nothing compares… nothing compares… to Prince.

Magic shared a story on Jimmy Kimmel Live! about playing basketball with Prince. Magic said that Prince talked so much trash because he thought he had a jump shot. Sure, against one of the greatest basketball players ever Prince couldn't hang, but against mere mortals like Charlie Murphy? That's a different story. Magic told of Prince asking him to open his Magic theater in Los Angeles at 2 a.m., and then showed up in pajamas. There are never enough Prince stories; the internet thanks you, Magic.

The Magic Hour

Not everything Magic touched turned to gold. Magic Johnson decided to get into the talk show business in 1998. He must've seen an avenue for super tall guys who are awkward on camera, but the show wasn't especially good. It somehow lasted two months before getting the Ole Yeller treatment. There really wasn't any reason to think Magic could pull it off — it's the Bad Idea Jeans of talk shows. But Magic didn't see it that way.

Johnson blamed the failure on black celebrities. They refused to appear on the show, according to Magic. He said, "Black stars think that if they're not on Leno or Letterman, then they're not making it. Their managers and agents keep them off of the black shows. There it is, that's your major problem right there."