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Magic Johnson Explains His Decision To Retire In 1991: “It Wasn’t A Hard Choice. Because You Have To Remember: They Didn’t Know A Lot. I Had To Go On That Side Of Caution, And Do What I Had To Do."

Magic Johnson Explains His Decision To Retire In 1991: “It Wasn’t A Hard Choice. Because You Have To Remember: They Didn’t Know A Lot. I Had To Go On That Side Of Caution, And Do What I Had To Do."

Magic Johnson was arguably the best player in the league coming into the 1990s. The only players who could compete with him for that title were Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. But in 1991, Magic Johnson had to make a very difficult decision. Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, a disease that attacks the immune system. Johnson made the decision to retire in 1991, at the peak of his career.

In a recent interview with Variety, Magic Johnson spoke about his decision to retire. He noted that at the time, there wasn’t a lot of information and awareness about HIV, and so he wasn't aware of what the health risks could be. On top of that, Magic wanted to live a long and healthy life, not just for himself, but for his wife and his family. So in the end, it was an easy decision for Johnson.

“They didn’t know if my immune system could hold up. And I had to take a look at my wife sitting here as they’re telling me. I want to be with her forever. So it wasn’t a hard choice. Because you have to remember: They didn’t know a lot. I had to go on that side of caution, and do what I had to do.”

Johnson's decision to retire was a shock to the NBA. Magic was still one of the best players in the NBA and had just made it to this third straight NBA Finals the prior season. But Johnson stuck to his decision and stayed retired. But Magic did get to play again, as he was allowed to represent the United States at the Olympics in 1992 when he joined Michael Jordan and Larry Bird on the Dream Team.

Johnson actually made a brief return to the Los Angeles Lakers as a player in 1996, although he only played for a part of the season. Had Johnson stayed past the season, he would have gotten to play with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, as both players joined the Lakers at the start of the 1996-97 season.