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For more than 20 years, Magic Johnson has been HIV positive—but it's never been revealed who he contracted it from. Last night on PBS's Frontline documentary, "AIDS in Black America," Magic disclosed the same vague answer he's given the press since 1991: "Sleeping with a lot of women."
Still, it seems odd that there's been no follow-up about which of these women was HIV positive. Or how many. Given the media environment in 1991 and Magic's impact on the culture at that time, asking about his private life was akin to asking Rudy Giuliani if he thought 9/11 was an inside job four hours after the Twin Towers fell. But since then, the story wasn't advanced any further.
About three years ago, while I was editor at Deadspin, there was talk of a Hollywood Babylon-level conspiracy that was making the rounds in the LA nightlife scene. The story went that Magic, like most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, was caught up in so many orgiastic LA house parties and had so many random groupie fuck-buddies that tracking down Magic's female Patient Zero would be almost impossible. But then, another source said that Magic's ex-teammate, Norm Nixon, had started floating a different scenario: that Magic most likely contracted HIV during an infamous sex party at Eddie Murphy's mansion, where often times, transsexual hookers were involved.
Obviously, Murphy's transsexual, uhm, "interests" were already publicized after his embarrassing pull-over incident in 1997. Our source pressed a little bit and never tracked down Nixon, but said he had other people willing to verify Magic's non-female proclivities on the record. The source would only do so for a large sum of money that was too expensive for Gawker Media, let alone Deadspin. It's also one that no one ever seems to be willing to press hard enough on—instead, everyone's interest has been stuck on the fact that Magic is said to have slept with 300-500 women per year throughout his career.
The female-to-male HIV statistics from that time suggest even with Magic's super-sized sexual prowess, he was still in a very, very small percentage. In her book AIDS and the Heterosexual Problem, for example, Lorraine Sherr writes that so few women are infected, female-to-male transmission rates are somewhere between 0 and 33% worldwide. She adds that in 1989-1992, "the risk of acquiring HIV from a single heterosexual contact from an infected woman to a man is estimated to be anywhere from twice to twenty times less likely than transmission from men to women." Additionally, studies conducted in Thailand in 1994 showed an "estimated probability of HIV-1 transmission per sexual contact to be 0.031" from female-to-male transmission.
And, still, none of these women who've ever slept with Magic Johnson seemed opportunistic enough to step forward and tell their tale. Neither have the transsexual prostitutes. So once again, the story of Magic's HIV survival takes front and center over how he actually got it. That Frontline documentary will have to wait for another day.
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