The entire November 1991, the NBA was in a state of shock. Earvin “Magic” Johnson had announced he was HIV positive and was retiring from the NBA.
The awareness we have about HIV today is light years away compared to 1991. Actually, a lot of that credit goes to Magic who spoke of his condition publicly and worked hard to educate us on what HIV really is and how it affects a person.
A lot of players publicly supported Magic, but in later years he said he could feel the world pulling from him. It went all the way to people who would hug him in the past barely shook his hand, all out of fear they would be infected.
One person who didn’t back away from Magic was Sir Charles Barkley. Always honest and direct, Barkley wanted to go a step further, and for the rest of that season, he wore 32 to honor his friend. We covered this story in-depth, but to give some context – a lot of people didn’t like it.
32 was already retired at that time, as it was worn by Sixers legend Billy Cunningham. Chuck was mindful of that and called Cunningham up who supported his idea, and the jersey was made.
Still, a lot of Sixers fans were not happy about it. Were all of them upset about the number or was there a more sinister reason they didn’t want to say publicly, be the judge yourself. But one thing is for sure; their displeasure was public. Many of them called into radio shows and voiced their displeasure. Chuck was having none of that.
The moment he stops and changes to “F F” is hilarious. It’s great to see Charles truly never burdened himself with public opinion if he was confident he was doing the right thing.