Fifteen years ago Magic Johnson told the world he had been given what was widely seen as a death sentence. Elliott Kalb celebrates a happy, healthy Magic and all his accomplishments since the day he revealed he was HIV-positive

Every generation, it seems, has a moment in time in which something happens that affects everyone.

Every generation, it seems, has a moment in time in which something happens that affects everyone.

For people older than me, there was the November day in 1963 when the news of President Kennedy's assassination shocked the world.

For my generation, it was a November afternoon in 1991, when a different shocking announcement literally changed the world.

The announcement was that Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a Los Angeles Lakers basketball player, was retiring because he was HIV-positive. This was not just any basketball player, or any retirement. And this was not just any disease. Then, the announcement sounded like a death sentence for Johnson.

On a subliminal level, it was the end of a lifestyle that many men engaged in. No longer would it be possible to have multiple sex partners without thinking of, or paying, the consequences.

In the same week that Johnson made his announcement Wilt Chamberlain, one of the best players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), was promoting his book in which he claimed to have had sex with 20000 women.

Aids had been in the public consciousness since 1981, but then it was largely viewed as a disease that affected only homosexuals.

"Every person remembered where they were when they found out," New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said.

"He told me and Mark [Aguirre] and we talked and cried."

Other NBA players in the league were stunned.

"I was with Portland real early in my career," Robinson recalled.

"I heard about it before the press conference and prayed that it was just a rumour. I did not believe it. You just did not want to accept the news. I felt for him."

I watched Johnson's press conference from Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks played that night. To say the entire Garden was deflated is to put it mildly. I remember being surprised a few months earlier, in June, at the 1991 NBA finals, when I read an article that talked about a healthy but aging Magic Johnson possibly playing for only one or two more years. It did not seem possible because Johnson had finished 1991 as second in the MVP voting to Michael Jordan.

I had been part of the television coverage for the 1991 McDonald's Open, an international basketball competition featuring an invited NBA team (the Lakers) against champion clubs from other countries. I learnt that Johnson was a very popular figure in Europe.

He was one of the most famous and beloved figures in the world. All I could think of when watching the November 7 press conference on television was the movie Pride of the Yankees, when a dying Lou Gehrig told the Yankee Stadium crowd: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

I heard the words coming from Johnson, about how it could happen to anyone. I heard Johnson say that he was going to go on and beat it. I heard how he vowed to become a spokesman for the disease.

I admired how he stood up and announced his fate to the world. I admired his courage, but thought it was an act.

He could not have been so upbeat. How could any 32-year-old, newly married man with so much to live for be so upbeat announcing this news?

But he was, and has been since that day.

Soon after his retirement I worked with him as a television analyst. He put everyone at ease. He talked to everyone on a personal level.

Johnson made it impossible to be anything but your best friend. He shared stories about his wife, telling him he was gambling too much at the casinos. Even Johnson had fears and worries about parenting toddlers, and worrying about their safety.

And he did more than just talk basketball, or fight the disease. He did more than any politician could have done to raise money and increase awareness of the HIV-Aids pandemic.

There has only been one athlete, Muhammad Ali, who has come close to doing as much for the worldwide community as Johnson. The difference is that Johnson became bigger after announcing his HIV status. Johnson still has his voice, his body and his smile.

He has revitalised neglected communities by bringing the Magic Johnson Theatres and retail centres into inner cities.

He opened 24-hour Magic Johnson fitness clubs in minority areas. His Magic Johnson Foundation raises money to fund community-based organisations serving the educational, health, and social needs of children living in inner cities communities and HIV-Aids organisations specialising in education, prevention and care.

"It will be hard to find a person who has got more out of every single day of his life," said longtime friend Thomas.

The latest statistics available from the Centres for Disease Control in the US state that more than a million people had HIV-Aids in 2003. - Fox