Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Magic Talks Tough on AIDS at Ribault High; "Get Tested," Former NBA Great Tells Students, "And Educate Yourself."

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Magic Talks Tough on AIDS at Ribault High; "Get Tested," Former NBA Great Tells Students, "And Educate Yourself."

Article excerpt

Byline: CHERIE BLACK, The Times-Union

The hardest thing basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson thought he would ever have to do in his life was try to beat fellow greats Larry Bird and Michael Jordan on the court.

Instead, he said, the hardest thing was driving home from the doctor's office to tell his wife, Cookie, he was HIV-positive.

"When she decided to stay with me, I knew I had a chance to live," Johnson told an auditorium filled with students Wednesday at Ribault High School. He visited the Northside Jacksonville school for a candid talk with students about his fight with the disease and how they can prevent contracting it.

"Ladies, you can still be hip, fly, cool and walk the walk and still say 'no' [to sex]. If you say 'Hey, I'm still going to do my thing,' then we'll see you in the video," Johnson said, referring to a brief videotape of a young girl living with HIV shown before he spoke.

After his diagnosis in 1991, Johnson went public, saying he was infected before marrying his wife. He then retired from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Following a brief comeback in 1992 and a second one in 1995-96, he has used his celebrity to raise money and awareness, including traveling to schools across the country educating young people about the disease.

"HIV and AIDS are affecting minorities disproportionately -- the numbers in Florida are devastating," he said. "There are some people in this audience who don't know [they are infected]. Please get tested and educate yourself so you can educate others."

Johnson, who said he has identified the woman who infected him, said he took 15 pills three times a day when he was diagnosed with HIV. Today, he said he takes a combination of two drugs daily.

After his talk, which lasted about 30 minutes, Johnson fielded questions from the students. Many said they believed his visit presented a much-needed message.

"We don't have many people come here and talk to us like this, and I'm glad we were able to hear this," said Jessica Markley, 18, a junior at Ribault. "My grandmother died of HIV and AIDS, so I know. I went through it. I hope the students learned a lot. …

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