April 11, 1988—During the 1987-88 season, Michael Jordan was the toast of the National Basketball Association, following up a season in which he had averaged 37.5 points per game with a league-leading 35 points per game average. But for the hyper-competitive Chicago Bulls shooting guard, the role of league scoring leader was not enough. The all-star guard longed to be a champion.
“Magic was a four-time champion and perennial All-NBA guy,” recalls Jordan, “I wanted nothing more on this earth than to be seen as better than him.”
Even as his Bulls team approached the playoffs near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, Jordan searched for a way to gain an advantage over Johnson and his Los Angeles Lakers, who had won the league championship the previous year and were favored to win the title again. During a road trip to play the lowly Seattle Supersonics, Jordan found that advantage.
“After the game, in which I scored 48 points while pouring in three assists and two rebounds,” recalls Jordan, “I visited a travelling carnival on the outskirts of the city. There was a Zoltar machine there, and I begged it to grant me a solitary wish: Strike down Magic Johnson with AIDS.”
While Johnson would go on to lead the Lakers to a second straight championship over the Detroit Pistons, who had eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs, Jordan would ultimately see his wish granted when Johnson announced he had contracted the HIV virus and retired from basketball following the 1991 season. Ironically, the announcement came not long after Jordan led his Bulls team to the first of six championships. Adding to the irony was the fact that Jordan’s first championship came at the expense of Johnson’s Lakers team.
“Sure, it wasn’t full-blown AIDS, but I think you have to take what you can get when it comes to wishes being granted,” says Jordan, “By the end of the 90s, hardly anyone was talking about Magic anymore, aside from expressing surprise that he hadn’t succumbed to AIDS yet. I guess it goes to show that sometimes wishes can come true.”