The Lakers are the most valuable team in the NBA with a 2010 market value of $607 million. Johnson is also a valuable commodity himself, with a net worth estimated at half a billion dollars. This is the latest move in a series of impressive business decisions made by the NBA Hall of Famer.
I still remember that day 18 years ago when Magic Johnson announced on national television that he was HIV positive. I was standing in my dorm room with my two roommates and my girlfriend, who was in tears. She didn't know a lot about sports, but she certainly knew about Magic Johnson. It was a sad day for all of us, since we were counting the days until Magic would move on to the afterlife.
Magic seemed to be in denial, with his pearly whites gleaming just as much as they were when he dribbled the ball down the court. He was determined to tell the world that he would not let this disease beat him. It said a lot about his character.
The first few months were difficult, as the country was coming to terms with what HIV actually meant. People were afraid to play with Magic, including the "astonishingly intelligent" Karl Malone, who said that he was concerned about playing with a player with the disease. At the same time, all of Magic's corporate sponsors sprinted out the door before you could say the word "abandonment." His wife Cookie stood by his side, likely steaming over her husband's irresponsible, rampant and dysfunctional sex life. Yes, Magic would be the first to admit that he was in large part responsible for his condition. Reading the stories about Kobe Bryant years later made me wonder if any of us has learned a thing.
Nearly 20 years later, we see another Magic Johnson entirely. He walks into the room, and people barely remember that he's HIV positive. He has set a new standard for what it means for a black athlete to be truly liberated and successful. Rather than making his money by dribbling a basketball, he has obtained real power by finding a seat in the corporate office.
What I also love about Magic's success is that he has inspired the world in two important ways:
1) He's educated us about HIV and the fact that people can live a long and productive life after being diagnosed. While it is important for us to know that a person can live a long life after being diagnosed with HIV, this does not excuse us from making responsible choices. In other words, the idea that a black man is supposed to sleep with anything that moves is antiquated and incredibly destructive.
2) He's taught us that black men can become more than athletic puppets. Instead, we can be captains of industry and champions of our own destiny. We should work as hard to excel academically as we do athletically. The smart guy in the room is always the one who walks away with the money. The uneducated athlete has signed up to get pimped.
I congratulate Magic on his success. I fully expect that his future will be as bright as his smile and that his relentless optimism will serve as a driving force for his achievements over the next 30 years. Yes, I did say 30 years, for Magic has shown us that HIV can be conquered, and that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.