It’s been 22 years since Earvin “Magic” Johnson went on Arsenio Hall’s late night show the day after he told the world he was HIV positive – and now the longtime friends are looking back on the profound 1991 television interview.
Magic and Arsenio spoke with Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson after his appearance on the TV host’s new show on Wednesday.
“I only wanted to do one show and I called my friend, he’s been with me through all my highs. All the championships, when I won, he would cry with me when we lost. And then this moment was another moment that I wanted to share with the world, but I needed a friend and a support system,” the 54-year-old sports legend said of why he chose to appear on Arsenio’s show following his big announcement two decades ago.
“He’s been all of that for me… you know how somebody just puts you in the palm of their hand and says, ‘I’m gonna take care of you’? And that’s what he did that night and I needed that,” Magic continued.
Arsenio explained that he was nervous about the interview.
“As a host I wanted to serve Earvin’s cause and allow him to get everything out, and we knew that there was a lot to talk about,” the talk show host said. “The world wanted to hear a little bit about Cookie Johnson. The world wanted to know all these details and I just wanted to help be the conductor for all of that. But I didn’t initially want to do it, when he called me.”
Adding, “I even had a backup plan for if I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t think I emotionally could go through it because it was more than an interview for me. And you have to understand that at that time, when you deal with the medical advances we have now, it’s hard for people now to understand what we felt back then.”
Magic credits a great support system of loved ones and doctors for his continued health – and also his close friend.
“I asked a doctor what did I need to do to be here for a long time, He said, ‘Look, you gotta take your meds, you gotta keep a positive attitude, and then you gotta make sure that you work out and take care of yourself.’ And so I said, ‘OK,’” the sports legend said. “And I was blessed to have my parents support me, Cookie and my kids support me, and then one of my best friends in life support me. And I think that’s what I needed. And that’s what people need, a support system to beat anything.”
A support system is something the former athlete has provided for his children, including son, E.J. In April, the 20-year-old came out and Magic spoke to Shaun about the challenges of coming out and how he initially felt the need to protect his son.
“As a parent you’re concerned… ‘cause see, I can handle anything. But you don’t know if your kid can handle things,” he explained. “And I said I think it’ll be 80 percent [will be] all good, but you’re gonna have to deal with 20 percent bad. Are you ready for people to criticize you? Because daddy is gonna love you, Cookie is gonna love you… a lot of people who love you. But, ‘Are you ready?’ He said, ‘Dad I’m ready.’”
The former Lakers star has also thrown his support behind Lamar Odom.
“I’ve reached out, not only to him but also his friends who are close to him,” he told Shaun. “We want to just, we send out prayers and hope that Lamar can kick, if he has an addiction, kick it. But what I do want to say, what people don’t know about Lamar, he’s one of the nicest men on this earth.”