Magic Johnson: ‘No Greater Pressure’ Than Telling Wife of Having HIV

Magic Johnson: 'No Greater Pressure' Than Telling Wife of Having HIV Cookie Johnson and Magic Johnson at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood in twenty sixteen Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie (Dreamstime)

By Zoe Papadakis | Thursday, 04 November 2021 01:15 PM

Irvin "Magic" Johnson is speaking openly about his HIV diagnosis, and how telling his wife Cookie was one of the "toughest" things he has ever had to do.

Appearing on Thursday's "CBS Mornings," Johnson and Cookie shared their memories of the diagnoses, as well as of the press conference where Cookie famously wore her white suit, with Gayle King.

"It was hard because I loved her so much and I hated to hurt her," Johnson said, according to People. "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."

Johnson received the devastating diagnosis from Los Angeles Lakers team doctor Michael Mellman in 1991. He and Cookie had been married for just over a month and Cookie had also just 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," Johnson said, adding he was "scared to death" beforehand.

"I wanted to make sure that she was going to be OK, the baby was going to be OK, and then I can move forward with making sure I was going to be OK," he continued.

When Johnson did tell Cookie, explaining he had likely contracted the disease via sexual contact, she was more concerned about his own wellbeing.

"It was, 'You're possibly going to die.' And that trumped everything," Johnson recalled.

The next step was to announce the HIV diagnosis via a press conference — something that Cookie was initially not on board with.

"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 said.

Despite this, Cookie was on that stage, standing tall next to her husband in a white suit. The outfit held a very specific meaning to her.

"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," she said.

At the Nov. 7 conference in 1991, Johnson wasted no time getting directly to the point.

"Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers. Today," he told the press, according to Rolling Stone. Johnson emphasized that he did not have AIDS and that his wife had tested negative.

"I plan to go on living for a long time," Johnson added.

Johnson still takes a "cocktail once a day" of medications to keep his HIV under control but it is currently undetectable.

"Everything is great," he added while chatting to King.