THE FORMER NBA COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN LEGACY INDELIBLY INTERTWINED WITH MAGIC JOHNSON, AIDS
So there has been a lot of huge fanfare with many celebrating the legacy of the recently passed away David Stern. He was the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association from 1984 all the way to 2014. Those are 30 incredibly long years to helm a professional sports league. And his successes are, indeed, legion. Pretty much everyone who enjoyed a career in the NBA has voiced their awe and appreciation for the late David Stern. But this little piece remembering him is totally independent of the NBA’s successes, nor of those who enjoyed life changing salaries as a result. This piece is about Magic Johnson, his incredibly shocking infection with AIDS, and what David Stern did as a result. Stern’s legacy is indelibly intertwined with that whole dynamic. And we should all be grateful for it.
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I DIDN’T BELIEVE THE NEWS UNTIL I SAW MAGIC RETIRE, DAVID STERN’S PRESS CONFERENCE
So if you are under the age of, say, 30 years, you don’t really know how all this felt. I remember the day I heard about Magic Johnson having AIDS. But I didn’t believe it, at first. A Division I basketball player told me in passing. But this is before cell phones and Googling anything. But it wasn’t a nasty rumor. Magic’s press conference announcing he had AIDS and his immediate retirement was on every TV for days. And conferences with David Stern, as well. Yet rumors also sprung out of the news, to be sure. AIDS was a death sentence back then. And everyone was afraid of it. But AIDS was the gay disease, the heroin user’s disease. AIDS was a moral failure, before anyone talked about gay rights. These were truly scary times. Darker times.
DAVID STERN SINGLE-HANDEDLY HELPED CHANGE WESTERN CULTURE, HOW WE THINK ABOUT AIDS
But for most of us who were already adults, these times were yesterday. But here’s the thing. I hated Magic Johnson. I was a Celtics fan, a Larry Bird fan. The first context that helped me truly think about this was when I heard that Larry Bird cried when he heard Magic had AIDS. Personally, the news just shocked me to my core. How can there be an NBA without Magic Johnson? I didn’t understand the loss until it was real. But David Stern helped change that. He helped change the NBA, the NBA’s culture. But because of his vision and strength, his loyalty to Magic, David Stern also helped change Western culture. That’s not an understatement. Stern made sure Magic played in the NBA ALL Star Game in 1992. Magic played, even hit the game winning shot at the buzzer.
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WE ALL OWE DAVID STERN A HUGE THANK YOU FOR HELPING US CONFRONT OUR UGLY DEMONS, PREJUDICES
Then, of course, Magic played on the Dream Team, the United States Olympic Basketball team. Eventually, Magic would again play in the NBA. But it was never the same. Yet the reality of Magic having AIDS caused everyone to confront their fears, their biases. A lot of that was not pretty. How could it have been? It’s prejudice, born directly from real fear. So when we remember David Stern, I choose to remember his greatest feat. Not making people incredibly rich. Not making the NBA an international phenomenon. I remember David Stern looking to save Magic Johnson’s life. That was his first priority. But David Stern helped change all of our lives, for the better, with the reality that was, and is, AIDS.
Thank you. And thanks again.