LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson received the inaugural World AIDS Day Magic Award from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Sunday at Staples Center, honoring his work raising awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment.

Johnson, who announced in 1991 that he tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS, is the founder and chairman of the nonprofit Magic Johnson Foundation, whose mission includes making donations to community-based organizations that focus on HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

“Who would have ever thought that 20 years later, here I am and we’re still trying to help people,” Johnson said after receiving the award in a suite at Staples Center before the Los Angeles Lakers-Indiana Pacers game.

“This disease is a deadly disease, but I think now, where we couldn’t talk about it 20 years ago in open, now we can talk openly about it. We can have awards like tonight at the Staples Center. What a blessing that is.”

Johnson said awareness of AIDS “has definitely gone up” since he announced in 1991 he was HIV positive. Another positive change was that then there was only one drug for people who are HIV positive or have AIDS and now there more than 30, Johnson said.

The presentation was made in connection with Wednesday’s World AIDS Day.

In an interview following the ceremony, Johnson advised people to be tested to determine if they have the virus that causes AIDS.

“A lot of people are walking around with HIV and don’t know they have it,” Johnson said.

“People really don’t know that they have HIV until it’s too late. If you properly get tested, you can live like me for a long time.

“Normally, what happens is you catch it late and then the medicine can’t help you.”

Johnson also recommended that people educate themselves.

“If you have the right information, then you can properly educate somebody else,” Johnson said.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein told reporters that Johnson is “the ultimate symbol of living well with HIV.”

“The message we want to get out to people is get tested,” Weinstein said. “If you’re positive, get treated. It’s not a death sentence. You can get quality care regardless of your ability to pay.”

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation operates 71 free health care centers in 22 nations. Five are named for Johnson, including one in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.

“Michael and I will be standing here for a long time,” Johnson said.

“Hopefully one day we can say there’s a cure.”

By Steven Herbert | City News Service