Magic Johnson Reflects on Howard Stern’s Racist Interview With Him From 1998
"I wanted to say something and hit him at the same time," Johnson admits in a new interview
Howard Stern spent a good chunk of the ’90s saying some truly awful things about people who didn’t deserve it for shock value. His constant jokes about Lorena Bobbitt, for example — a woman who was repeatedly raped and beaten by her husband — have aged like milk. But in light of recent attention on Magic Johnson thanks to Winning Time and his forthcoming docuseries They Call Me Magic, one Stern incident in particular has resurfaced — his cringy interview with the Lakers legend from 1998.
In the late ’90s, Johnson’s short-lived late-night talk show The Magic Hour (canceled after just three months on the air), was on the ropes. And in a desperate bid to draw up ratings, his producers booked Stern, who had been cracking jokes at the basketball star’s expense on his radio show. It did not go well. During his Magic Hour appearance, Stern made several embarrassingly racist comments about Johnson’s speech patterns and even took aim at his HIV diagnosis.
“The thing you need to work on, in my estimation, is that you’ve gotta stop trying to talk like the white man,” Stern told Johnson on the show. “Everybody’s anti-Ebonics. I say, let it fly! What you need to do, ‘my brotha,’ is to really get down with it. You talk Ebonics all you want.”
“Listen, you’re a Black man. I grew up in a Black neighborhood,” he continued. “I’m Blacker than you are, trust me. I’m the Blackest Black man you’ll ever meet. And I’m telling you right now, when I lived in Roosevelt, Long Island, which is a Black ghetto, everybody talked like this” — at this point, he did an ill-advised vocal impression of how he thought Black people sound — “I was a big marble mouth, but it was fascinating, because I was one of the people. Why does everybody have to understand every word you say? Who cares what you got to say? No difference what you say.”
That’s obviously all horrifically racist, but it’s somehow not the vilest thing Stern said during the interview. That’d be when he prodded into Johnson’s sex life in order to make a joke about his HIV status. “You had the life I wanted,” he said. “These were white chicks? Black chicks? What do we got? What did you prefer? You would have sex with everybody? At least you had fun getting AIDS.”
Now, in a new interview with Variety, Johnson, who hasn’t spoken to Stern since, has weighed in on the interview. “So many times, I wanted to say something and hit him at the same time — on air,” he told the publication.
“I was mad when they booked him,” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do. When people look for ratings, this is what happens. It is what it is. I learned a lot from that. I’ve never put myself — or HIV and AIDS, or my race — in that position again, ever again.”
You can watch the 1998 interview in the video below.
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