Skip to main content

To have a friend like Charles Barkley

Chuck and Magic

“I’m gonna go on, I’m gonna beat it, and I’m gonna have fun. I’m gonna see you soon” Even in his most difficult time in life, Magic was planning on having fun. This was the last thing he said on November 7th, 1991, when he announced he is infected with HIV and is retiring from basketball.

This news shocked the world. Magic was more than basketball; he was a global superstar who transcended the sport and the first person of that stature that publicly spoke of his condition.

At the time, people didn’t know the difference between AIDS and HIV, it was considered to be a “gay disease” as most of the infected were homosexuals, and there was a lot of stigma attached to it. Then, suddenly, America’s favorite athlete had it.

His greatest rival and friend, Larry Bird, said up to that point there was never a moment in his life he didn’t feel like playing basketball. That night The Celtics were playing, and he didn’t want to be there. He compared hearing the news to the day his father died. His coach and mentor Pat Riley sad a few words before a game in MSG as the coach of the Knicks, and then both teams had a prayer for Magic before the game. It came out of nowhere and shook everyone to their core.

I learned quickly how differently I’d be looked at, now that I had HIV. … When you go get the love hug or hit the hands as they used to and everybody’s like, they don’t know if they can touch me.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Magic decided to become a spokesperson for the disease. Give people a face they know and will trust to speak up on the facts and risks involved. It’s often in life you found out who your real friends were, and Magic saw who came to support him. One of the first people to do something was Charles Barkley.

We love Chuck because he doesn’t have a filter, occasionally speaks before he thinks, but no one ever doubts it is coming from a good place. He may come off insensitive at times, but actions speak louder than words.

Barkley was playing for the 76ers at the time and he wore number 34. To honor Magic and show support for his friend, he decided to switch to Magic's number 32 for the rest of the season (via The Baltimore Sun).

“I’m changing numbers to salute a friend. It’s a private thing between the two of us. I’m just doing it for the year; then I’ll go back to 34. I like my number.”

No. 32 was retired in the rafters and will always be Billy Cunningham’s number. Magic called him to ask for permission, and Mr. Cunningham was very supportive of the idea. The Sixers made the jersey, and Chuck supported his friend through the entire season.

We take this for granted now, but even after the first shockwave, there were players scared of being on the Dream Team next to Magic as there was still a lack of knowledge on HIV and AIDS.

One can only wish to have a friend like Charles Barkley.

Larry Bird shares a trash talking story involving Larry Bird

"You better ask for a double team, bruh" -- John Salley on the time he was tasked with guarding Larry Bird 1-on-1

One jumper later, Salley realized Chuck Daly and the Pistons might need to change their defensive approach on Bird

New Jersey Nets guard Kenny Anderson

Kenny Anderson on his legacy — “Young kids don’t know me too well, but their parents do”

Kenny Anderson doesn't feel the need to explain that he was once one of the best point guards in the game.


Magic Johnson shares who is the greatest player he ever played against

Magic played against a lot of great players, but one guy particularly stands out!

Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green and Bill Simmons

Jalen Green has a message for Bill Simmons after earning a spot on the All-Rookie first team

As soon as the list of awardees was announced, the first thing Jalen Green did was tweet a special shoutout to Bill Simmons.

Real Madrid guard Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic slept like a baby before the then biggest game of his life

Former teammate at Real Madrid Fabien Causeur was astonished that Luka Doncic was able to sleep like a baby before the biggest game of his career.