Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a 6'9", HIV positive, NBA MVP. He played on the US Olympic Basketball team and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. But most importantly, Rent-a-Center advertiser. What CAN'T this man do?
Hard to believe now but at one time the NBA was on the edge of bankruptcy. That all changed during the 1979 college basketball finals (which to this day is still the highest-rated college basketball game ever) that pitted Magic's Michigan State against Larry Bird's Indiana State University, with Magic winning the title. The two entered the league at the same time, sparking off a decades long rivalry between the two and eventually reinvigorating the league and showcasing some of the best basketball ever witnessed by the fans.
Obviously this picture was taken before Magic acquired HIV.
During Magic's rookie season he led the Lakers along with Kareem Abdul Jabbar to the Promised Land, a.k.a. the NBA finals, where they faced a formidable Philadelphia 76ers lineup that featured super heroes Moses Malone and Dr. J. The Lakers were without injured center Kareem for the crucial game 6, and Magic was listed as the starting center instead. By the end of that game, Johnson played all five positions and recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals and became the only rookie ever to win the Finals MVP. It was just the beginning.
Magic continued to own, winning NBA titles in '82, '85, '87, and '88, all during an era considered to be the most competitive decade for basketball. Three of those titles were against Larry Bird, whom Magic admitted was his greatest opponent.
Their rivalry was intense and each match-up an epic duel, although off the court they became close friends, even writing a book together.
The contrast in their playing style was what attracted the viewers (Magic's flashy play versus Bird's calculated attack). Some say it was all about race, or even Hollywood versus blue collar workers. The people who did watch basketball back then knew the truth, that it was because it was the damn best basketball you could watch on tv and probably still is to this day, despite increasing the length of the shorts.
Magic had to retire in 1991 when he learned he had HIV. Since this was 1991 everyone who touched him thought they were going to die. Other people thought that that meant he was gay or bisexual, including Isiah Thomas.
Not gay or bisexual.
Magic defied the whole world when he didn't die after the press announcement, and continues to not die to this day. Today he's an overweight, middle aged businessman worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We'd like to believe he thinks his monetary worth is equal to a fraction of the skills he used to display on the court a long time ago (Magic's smile not included in the equation).