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Magic Johnson reflects on the disappointment of Karl Malone’s refusal to play against him after he was diagnosed with HIV

Karl Malone and a lot of other NBA players had concerns about Magic's HIV. Consequently, Jonhson felt betrayed by one of his Dream Team brothers
Magic Johnson on Karl Malone’s refusal to play against him after HIV news

Magic Jonhson

In the 1990s, Magic Johnson had a tough time after contracting HIV. Technology and science have improved in the last decades, but we still haven't figured out many things about the disease, and people still have some stigma against it. But more than conquering his fears amid uncertainty, Magic decided the bigger battle to be won was how to educate his peers and the public about HIV.

How NBA players reacted to Magic's HIV

Magic admitted he was hurt by how other people treated him with his condition, especially his peers. He mentioned Karl Malone, who publicly shared his concerns about Johnson's health condition.

"Look at this, scabs and cuts all over me. I get these every night, every game. They can't tell you that you're not at risk, and you can't tell me there's one guy in the NBA who hasn't thought about it." 

Other players were thinking about it too but claimed because it was Magic, who had just participated in the Dream Team and was considered one of the faces of the league, the NBA was trying to minimize the impact of the news. Meanwhile, Charles Barkley claimed he wasn't worried about Magic despite playing with him and spending practices with him.

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Basketball is a highly physical game, as mentioned by The Mailman. Because of the limited knowledge about HIV, there were a lot of misconceptions about it. Instead of fighting them, Johnson started spreading awareness about the disease.

Magic was disappointed by some parts of the NBA community

Magic was hurt because he thought members of the Dream Team would be the ones who were more accepting of his condition. In a recent interview published by Club Shay Shay Podcast, Johnson finally lifted the lid on the incident.

"The same people that used to give you the dab and a love, hug, they weren't there. Especially, Karl Malone, he came out publicly with it. I just played with you on the Dream team and practiced with you every single day, and now you don't want to play against me. You could have just said that to me."

The 5-time NBA champion probably felt betrayed by one of his brothers. Magic added he returned briefly from retirement and walked away on his own terms. The NBA wanted him back, but he refused.

"I didn't want to damage the league. If they are going to look at me like that, then I don't want to come back. We had some work to do, so I started educating everybody about the disease and everything. I finally came back, played half a season, and I went out my way. They wanted me to come back, but I said no, I am good."

In hindsight, things could have been different if a regular player contracted HIV in the 90s. The NBA would have probably suspended him from the league without major fuss and coverage from the media. Magic's superstar status and global appeal certainly helped him. But kudos to Johnson for choosing to fight the bigger battle: misinformation, lack of awareness, and stigma against HIV. 

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