When Magic Johnson’s iconic basketball career was interrupted by a stunning HIV diagnosis three decades ago, the newlywed NBA legend had no idea how much time he had to live or how the virus would affect his wife and their unborn child.
The couple opened up about the impact the diagnosis had on their relationship in an interview with CBS Mornings’ Gayle King that aired Thursday.
“It was hard because I loved her so much and I hated to hurt her,” Magic, 62, told King, 66. “I’ve played against some of the best basketball players in the world, right? I’ve been in championships. I’ve been in nine [NBA] Finals, so I know pressure. But there was no greater pressure than driving home to tell her.”
Magic and Cookie had been married just over a month when Los Angeles Lakers team doctor Micahel Mellman delivered the devastating news in 1991. His wife has also recently learned she was pregnant.
“The key moment was when Cookie took the test and the results came back that her and the baby was fine,” the retired NBA star told King, adding he was “scared to death” beforehand.
“I wanted to make sure that she was going to be okay, the baby was going to be okay, and then I can move forward with making sure I was going to be okay,” the former Lakers president said.
When Magic informed Cookie that he had likely contracted the disease via sexual contact, she was more concerned about his well-being. “It was, ‘You’re possibly going to die.’ And that trumped everything.”
Initially, Cookie admittedly was not in favor of Magic holding the press conference announcing his HIV diagnosis due to the stigma surrounding the disease.
“At that time, people weren’t educated, so they thought you couldn’t touch people. You couldn’t hug people. And I didn’t want people to treat us like we were lepers,” she told King.
Cookie joined her husband on stage for his announcement along with a specially selected outfit. “I wore that white suit for a reason. I didn’t want to wear anything dark or black because to me, it’s what it symbolized. And the white suit, to me, symbolized brightness, like a future basically [and] positivity.”
Magic’s HIV is currently undetectable, though the former basketball star must still take a “cocktail once a day” of medications to help keep it under control. “Everything is great,” he said.
Watch the interview with the Johnsons below.