Posted by Abe Sauer on March 21, 2011 10:00 AM
On November 7, 1991 five-time NBA champion and three-time league MVP Irving "Magic" Johnson announced his immediate retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers and pro basketball. Johnson further said that he had tested positive for HIV.
The announcement shocked America, and Johnson became the public face of HIV, challenging Americans who had until then seen (and celebrated) the illness as afflicting only the gay community to come to terms with one its most celebrated athletes being HIV-positive.
So, not a soul would have believed anyone who had said at the time, "In 20 years, Magic Johnson will be the spokesperson for a major brand's line of men's hygiene products." But that's just what happened. During the NCAA tournament, Dove introduced its new campaign — "Journey to Comfort with Magic Johnson."
That he would even be alive 20 years later, let alone be the face of a hygiene product, would probably surprise many in 1991.
At the time, Converse stepped back from its huge endorsement deals with the star. In fact, Johnson's deal with Converse soured in 1992 when Johnson himself reportedly engineered the break-up: "I've never really been happy with them. Nike and Reebok pour money into advertising; I've been trying to get out for years."
Nestle shelved all of its Crunch bar ads starring Johnson. Meanwhile, Pepsi shifted its use of the star from straight pitchman to public service partner.
Johnson did ink a short-lived "Travel Well" endorsement deal with Lincoln Mercury in 2004.
That Johnson's back with a major endorsement deal is also a testament to just how much the stigma of HIV has dissipated over the last two decades. Johnson's announcement forced the conversation. A Newsday headline three days after his announcement read "Non-Gays Waken to AIDS Risk."
Then again, maybe a lot of people don't even know who Magic Johnson is, let alone the details of his HIV-related retirement. That reality is not that far-fetched.
A commercial also currently running alongside the Johnson Dove ad is a McDonald's ad featuring Johnson's arch enemy, Boston Celtic Larry Bird. The punchline of the McDonald's ad? Nobody today knows who Larry Bird is.