The longtime feud between basketball greats and former good friends Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Isiah Thomas has escalated. The former Knicks president is lashing out at Johnson over accusations that Thomas spread rumors around the NBA that Johnson was gay, bisexual or on the "down low" after Johnson was diagnosed HIV in 1991.
The claims are made by Johnson in When the Game Was Ours, which he co-wrote with Larry Bird and author Jackie MacMullan. The book will be released on Nov. 4 and Thomas, now the head coach at Florida International University, slammed the player who he famously used to kiss before games in an interview with SI.com.
Magic's most shocking accusation is that Thomas was responsible for spreading rumors that Johnson was gay or bisexual after Johnson tested positive for HIV, forcing his retirement at age 32. "Isiah kept questioning people about it,'' Magic says. "I couldn't believe that. The one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts. It was like he kicked me in the stomach.''
"Magic acted and responded off some really bad information that he got,'' Thomas went on. "Whatever friendship we had, I thought it was bulls--- that he believed that. Let me put it to you this way: If he and I were such close friends, if I was questioning his sexuality, then I was questioning mine too. That's how idiotic it is.''
The book's main source for this allegation is Magic's longtime agent, Lon Rosen, who says Thomas told him in 1991, "I keep hearing Magic is gay.'' "C'mon, Isiah, you know Earvin better than anyone,'' Rosen replies. "I know,'' Thomas answers, "but I don't know what he's doing when he's out there in L.A.''
Thomas denied that conversation. "I don't know Lon like that,'' he said, adding that he reached out to Johnson at the time. "I remember calling Magic and saying [of the allegations that he was rumor-mongering], 'You know that's some bulls---.' ''
Magic declined to be interviewed for this story. Rosen, speaking on behalf of his client, said he and Magic stand by everything attributed to them in the book.
Thomas says that as president of the players' association, he made it possible for Magic to return in 1992 to the All-Star Game and told players: "And I was the first to shake his hand and hug him and give him a kiss, to let people know that's not how the virus is spread."
Thomas also says his brother, Gregory, died of AIDS five years ago.
Johnson's news that he tested HIV-positive became an international story in 1991 and was credited with somewhat helping de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS. Johnson has steadfastly maintained he tested positive after promiscuous heterosexual sex, but at the time that was not a common source of seroconversion in the United States. For what it's worth, rumors were floating around about Johnson before the announcement. It seems odd that Johnson would blame Thomas.