Magic Johnson: ‘No greater pressure’ than telling wife Cookie about HIV diagnosis

Johnson and Cookie spoke with Gayle King near the 30th anniversary of his historic press conference.

It’s been three decades since Earvin “Magic” Johnson revealed to the world his HIV diagnosis, becoming the most famous person openly with the disease at the time. This week, he opened up about how hard it was for him to share his diagnosis with his wife Cookie, calling it the “toughest” thing he’s ever done.

Johnson made his HIV diagnosis public on Nov. 7, 1991. He and Cookie recently talked about that day and everything that came afterward in an interview with CBS Mornings‘ Gayle King. In the interview, which aired Thursday, the couple got candid about the impact that the diagnosis had on the marriage and their family.

Magic Johnson Cookie Johnson
Cookie Johnson and former NBA player Earvin “Magic” Johnson attend the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “The Legend of Tarzan” at Dolby Theatre on June 27, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

“It was hard because I loved her so much and I hated to hurt her,” the 62-year-old NBA legend confessed. “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.”

The couple had been married just over a month when the Los Angeles Lakers team doctor Michael Mellman delivered the devastating news in 1991. His wife had also just learned she was pregnant.

Magic & Cookie Johnson
(Credit: Getty Images)

The retired athlete told King he was “scared to death” about transmitting HIV to his wife and child.

“The key moment was when Cookie took the test and the results came back that her and the baby was fine,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that she was going to be okay, the baby was going to be okay, and then I can move forward with making sure I was going to be okay.”

While many wives might have been focused on the possibility that their partner contracted the disease due to infidelity, Cookie’s focus was more on her husband’s health. She admitted she initially wasn’t a fan of holding a press conference publicly announcing the diagnosis, citing the stigma surrounding HIV as her main concern.

“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 explained to King.

Despite her reservations, she still chose to stand by Johnson during the press conference. She admitted to paying meticulous attention to every detail the day of the press conference, down to the color of the suit she wore.

“I wore that white suit for a reason,” she said. “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.”

Johnson’s HIV is currently undetectable, but he must still take a “cocktail once a day” of medications to help keep his health under control.

“Everything is great,” he said.

Watch the CBS Mornings interview below.

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