"God has blessed me," Johnson, the Spartans' honorary captain, told ESPN's Andy Katz just before the game started, and hours after the Hall of Fame point guard had donated $1 million to his alma mater's athletic department. "This is a bucket-list moment for me. I am so happy to be a part of of this ..."
Twenty years ago, who believed Johnson would be crossing things off his bucket list in 2011? I still remember that news conference on Nov. 7, 1991 (see below), like it was yesterday – Johnson, then age 32, telling everyone he was HIV-positive and retiring from the Los Angeles Lakers immediately. A few years ago, ESPN ranked it as its seventh-most memorable moment of the previous quarter century. To me, only the USA hockey team beating the Russians in 1980 could rank higher. For sure, it's easily "the biggest press conference in the history of sports."
Later that week, in "Hitting Home: Magic's Plight Had An Impact On Us All" – an op/ed piece for The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger Star, the joint newspapers I worked for then – I wrote about how Johnson had forced me to take HIV and AIDS more seriously; and how in 1988 our brief encounter became a career highlight. "There's something else I'll never forget: Magic standing at a lectern ..." I also wrote in the piece, "I wanted to cry, but he wouldn't let me. I have never been more proud of anyone than I was of him for the way he handled himself."
Enjoyed reading ESPN.com recollections this week from J.A. Adande, Steve Springer and Dave McMenamin. They and others offering equally compelling perspectives remind us of, among other things, how difficult Johnson's circumstances were to comprehend back then, how much journalism has changed these past two decades, and how the basketball legend has become a successful entrepreneur, television commentator and source of inspiration.
I hope for many years to come that Johnson continues to inspire, amaze and, yes, leave us all not surprised each time we see his trademark smile and enthusiasm appear on our television screens.