Cookie Johnson opens up on Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis
Nothing could prepare Cookie Johnson when she received the news in 1991. It causes her voice to break up to this day.
Johnson — the wife of Magic Johnson, the former Michigan State and Los Angeles Lakers basketball star — is opening up about her husband’s HIV diagnosis and how the couple supported each other during his post-NBA life this week with her book, “Believing in Magic,” hitting store shelves.
“It was the scariest thing I had ever faced,” Cookie Johnson told For The Win in a story published today. “It was like your whole world just crashes right in front of you.”
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She told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts earlier this week: “It scared me to death. I mean, I fell to my knees … We both fell on our knees and we started crying.”
Magic Johnson, a Lansing native and former Lansing Everett standout, publicly announced his abrupt retirement from the NBA and HIV diagnosis on Nov. 7, 1991, a moment that sent waves across the nation and changed the perception of HIV and AIDS, both of which had been associated with homosexuals and drug addicts at the time.
For Cookie Johnson back at home, the moment was personal and excruciating. For one thing, she had to test for HIV, along with her unborn child, then wait almost two weeks for the result.
More from her appearance on Good Morning America, which revealed some poignant details:
“I was scared to death about the baby. I mean, I had just found out I was pregnant so it was really early in the pregnancy,” she said. “In those days, you had to wait almost 10 days to get your results back, so that was agonizing. And then, finally, the results came in and what they told me was that if the mother is negative, then the baby is automatically negative. And they didn’t have to worry about trying to test the baby because, really, I mean, he hadn’t really formed yet, actually. I mean, it was very early on.”
Johnson also shared her heartache as she waited behind closed doors as her husband made phone calls to the various women he had slept with.
“It was like, ‘Who is he calling? You know, why is he in there so long?’ she said. “That was a difficult day.”
Since the diagnosis and retirement, Magic and Cookie Johnson have been very active as advocates of HIV awareness. The Magic Johnson Foundation was formed in 1991 “to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities.”
Despite the sadness the couple endured during that time, Cookie Johnson — who maintains that they lead a normal life and that Magic Johnson is “healthier than I am” – wants readers to take a positive message away from reading her book: That despite all the troubles her and Magic went through, she gained strength from it.
“If there’s anyone out there going through some of the things we went through, I hope that our story can help them out in some sort of way,” she told For The Win.
‘You want your child to be happy’
Magic and Cookie Johnson also opened up about their son, Earvin Johnson III, and how they came to terms with him being gay.
“I have pictures of all the Little League stuff I put him in and the baseball teams and the football teams,” Cookie Johnson told Good Morning America. “And it just wasn’t his thing. Ultimately you want your child to be happy.”
Magic Johnson added: “I had to come to realize that this is who he is, and he’s going to be happy. And so why am I judging him? I’m his father, so I got to be the first one to say, ‘It’s OK and I love you. Now, how can I help you?'”
You can buy Cookie Johnson’s book, “Believing in Magic: My Story of Love, Overcoming Adversity, and Keeping the Faith,” on Amazon.com.