Back in November, sports legend Magic Johnson commemorated the 30th anniversary of going public in 1991 to reveal that he’d contracted HIV and would be retiring from the NBA just before entering his 12th season in the league.
That moment turned Johnson into one of the biggest HIV/AIDS awareness advocates and helped debunk the myth that it was a “gay disease.” His bravery however didn’t stop the crude jokes from coming in, many at the time delivered by way of veteran shock jock Howard Stern.
The five-time NBA Champion is now reflecting on the moment he met Stern face-to-face during his short-lived talk show, The Magic Hour, which looking back is cringeworthy to watch, specifically parts where Stern criticizes Magic for talking like a “white man” and joking that he enjoyed contracting AIDS.
The July 1998 interview on The Magic Hour (seen above) seemed to be done with consent from both sides, but Johnson recently told Variety that he almost came to blows with the controversial radio icon. “I wanted to say something and hit him at the same time — on air,” Magic told Variety, going on to add, “I was mad when they booked him, but there’s nothing you can do. When people look for ratings, this is what happens.” He ultimately used the interaction as a learning lesson to never become a sacrificial lamb for ratings by stating, “I’ve never put myself — or HIV and AIDS, or my race — in that position again, ever again.”
For those who’d rather not sit through the entire 42-minute episode, some of the more offensive highlights included Stern referring to Johnson as “my brotha” before telling him to “talk Ebonics all you want.” Stern then goes on claiming to be “the Blackest Black man you’ll ever meet” for growing up in “a Black ghetto” of Roosevelt, Long Island, afterwards proceeding to ask Johnson whether he likes “white chicks, “Black chicks” or “sex with everybody” before flat-out saying “at least you had fun getting AIDS.”
Although it’s clear by his current mainstream success that Howard Stern has never really had to answer for any of his off-color remarks throughout the ’90s, we’re glad Magic Johnson used the moment to become a better person overall.
You’ll be able to learn more about Magic Johnson’s groundbreaking life story when They Call Me Magic premieres on Apple TV Plus beginning April 22.
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