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Supporting Magic Johnson after HIV diagnosis

David Stern, who died Wednesday at age 77, faced many crises as NBA commissioner.

A player brought guns into the locker room. A brawl between teams spilled into the stands and involved fans. A referee gambled on NBA games. Lockouts resulted the cancellation of regular-season games. Those situations revealed a commissioner resolute in protecting the league.

But Stern’s most humane, poignant act as commissioner came when he stood by Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson when Johnson announced he was HIV-positive on Nov. 7, 1991. 

Nearly 30 years ago, most of the public didn’t have a clear understanding of AIDS and HIV. A diagnosis was perceived by many as a death sentence. Stern’s initial reaction upon learning Johnson’s condition was standard at the time. He thought Johnson was going to die.

“Everyone did,” Stern told amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, in 2016. “That was the nature of HIV/AIDS in this country at the time. I didn’t think about what next steps to take until I hung up.”