Magic Johnson remains as ambitious as ever, even decades after his championship wins with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. Johnson continuously explores new business ventures, including his recent ownership stakes in the Washington Commanders and Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite these fresh endeavors, Johnson’s commitment to HIV/AIDS advocacy has remained unwavering.
During the 4th annual Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS, hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie Johnson received the Elizabeth Taylor Commitment to End AIDS Award. This award is named in honor of the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, who dedicated her platform to raising awareness about the disease. Taylor shared a close relationship with the Johnsons and collaborated with them as fellow advocates before her passing.
“This is where our heart is,” Magic Johnson said of the honor. “We’ve been raising money and awareness, we’ve been educating people about HIV and AIDS, we’ve been caring for people, making sure they have housing. All those things are important to us. We’ve worked with [Elizabeth] so much…in the past so it’s an honor for Cookie and I.”
Cookie Johnson commended her husband for setting a leading example and motivating others, particularly considering the challenges and circumstances he encountered along the way.
“To be someone in a high profile situation and be able to go out and be brave enough to stand up against HIV and AIDS, especially in 1991 — To be strong enough to do that, I think that made a big difference and a lot of people follow suit,” Cookie Johnson expressed.
Their commitment to giving back and assisting others remains of paramount importance to them. “That’s dear to our heart and God gave us that purpose. So we will continue to just keep going and going and going. You’re never going to see us stop ‘cause that’s not who I am,” Magic Johnson stated.
Barbara Berkowitz, an officer at the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation who collaborated closely with Taylor for many years, shared her thoughts on the event’s importance and identified apathy as the primary obstacle currently hindering HIV/AIDS awareness efforts.
“People just don’t think it’s still a problem because people are living longer, there’s medication. But we have to do more,” Berkowitz emphasized. “Laws have to be changed. Money has to be raised and we have to do more.”
Event co-chairs Paris Jackson and Christine Chiu attended the event, joined by stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Tilly, and Richard and Kathy Hilton. Besides honoring the Johnsons, the event shared the stories of individuals affected by HIV/AIDS, emphasized the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation‘s influence, and collected funds for the organization. The evening concluded with a performance by the “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight.
Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance hosted the black-tie gala. During her opening address, Bassett expressed her excitement about honoring the Johnsons for their contributions to HIV awareness, prevention, and education. She concluded her speech by urging everyone to persist in the battle to eradicate AIDS.
“Let’s commit to ending this epidemic because we have all the necessary tools. Let’s make a commitment to Elizabeth’s vision of an AIDS free world,” Bassett said.
Before bestowing the award upon the Johnsons, Vance shared a message from Barack Obama. The former president reminisced about the day he received the news of Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, highlighting the uncertainty of that moment, not knowing if Johnson would survive, let alone return to playing basketball. However, Obama emphasized that the Johnsons’ response to the diagnosis reshaped the world’s perspective on the disease.
“They moved us to think in an entirely new way about a condition affecting millions of people around the world, changing attitudes with the kind of grace and encouragement that only true leaders can display,” Vance conveyed while reading Obama’s message.
During his address, Magic Johnson pondered over the significant shift in discussions about HIV/AIDS since his diagnosis in 1991, while recognizing that there are still additional tasks to accomplish. He also expressed gratitude towards his wife, acknowledging her enduring support throughout the years.
“I said to you, ‘I understand if you want to leave me,’ and you smacked me so hard,” recounted Magic Johnson. “The reason I tell this story is because a lot of people don’t get that type of support when they tell their parents, or tell their loved one, or tell their partner. You have stuck right beside my side every step of the way.”
While sharing the microphone, Cookie Johnson underscored their appreciation for Elizabeth Taylor and the enduring impact of her foundation.
“To see that this is still going on, it’s just everything,” she expressed. “And so tonight, we pledge that we will carry this on, Elizabeth.”