Magic Johnson’s offered nothing but love and support when he was first publicly asked about his gay son.
“Cookie and I love EJ and support him in every way,” Johnson told TMZ in 2013. “We’re very proud of him.”
It was a beautiful sentiment and example, but Johnson didn’t immediately arrive at that place of complete acceptance. The NBA icon took some time to process EJ’s sexuality, he told Variety in a recent interview.
“When you grow up in team sports, you’re thinking, ‘Is he gonna play sports?’” Johnson said. “And then when I saw that he liked dolls and to play dress-up … ‘What are you doing?’”
EJ says his parents were the last people to know he was gay. He knew they would need some time to digest it, and for a while, things were pretty tense inside of the Johnson’s Beverly Hills home.
Johnson made insulting rules, such as barring EJ from wearing scarves in the house.
“[My parents] were the last people that I really had to talk to about it. It wasn’t new for me, but they had to really take that in and digest it,” EJ said. “Especially my dad, because he was really the last person to talk to. I think it was just a lot for him to swallow in that conversation. A lot of just going back and forth. And he just was rattling off about things that weren’t particularly nice. But he’s not somebody who works great being cornered or surprised.”
EJ’s account of his father’s evolution is interesting, because Magic has always publicly been pro-LGBTQ. His HIV disclosure in 1991 was a landmark moment in the fight for HIV awareness. At that point, the virus was still commonly viewed as a gay problem.
Johnson’s decision to go public saved the lives of countless LGBTQ people.
“Along the way Magic encountered the same sort of prejudice and discrimination that many gay men had to deal with, but not once do I recall Magic denouncing the gay community in order to ‘clear his name,’” wrote gay Los Angeles sportswriter LZ Granderson in 2008.
Around that time, Johnson was cutting ads for the fight against Proposition 8, an initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California.
The contrast in Johnson’s public support for LGBTQ causes and personal misgivings about his son’s sexuality shows that people are complex. As Johnson said, he grew up in the heteronormative world of male team sports. His son was supposed to shoot hoops, not wear scarves around the house.
But in time, Johnson came around. He mended his relationship with EJ a couple of months after he had started college in New York City.
“He hugged me so hard — he was, like, squeezing all the air out of me. That’s when I knew, there’s nothing but love here,” EJ told Variety.
These days, Johnson has no qualms expressing his love for his son to the world.