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Kids React to Their Hero’s Infection With PM-Magic Johnson, Bjt

November 9, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Some of Magic Johnson’s biggest - and youngest - fans cried, asked questions and reflected on their hero after Johnson announced his retirement from basketball because he has the AIDS virus.

″As soon as I heard about it on the news I started crying. ... He’s like a brother to me,″ 11-year-old Donovan Henry said after school Friday. ″I got Magic sneakers, Magic posters and Magic sweatsuits with his picture on it.″

″I’ve always loved Magic Johnson,″ said his friend, 13-year-old Jose Cruz.

Johnson, with his million-dollar smile and smooth style, is a bigger-than- life role model to youngsters. His boyish enthusiasm made him an athlete whose fame transcended sports, someone adults and children admire.

″Magic Johnson was my idol because he’s real big and knows how to play basketball nice,″ said 10-year-old Jamaar Segar. His friends nodded in agreement.

Dr. Anthony Rostain, a psychiatrist at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, said many children feel close to Magic.

″Some kids feel they really know this guy, and they experience his retirement and his medical problem as a personal loss,″ he said.

The news Thursday was the talk of the schools throughout the inner city - where basketball is king.

″The kids are real devastated by it. It brings reality to what AIDS is all about. ... Magic is a hero to them,″ said Leonel Morales, an assistant principal at P.S. 148 in the Bronx.″ They’ll remember Magic Johnson more than anyone in the education field.″

The reality of AIDS is something teachers had to gently explain to younger kids. But the older ones know how serious the disease can be.

″I know AIDS makes you feel real sick,″ Segar said.

Even 6-year-old Jerry Gurganious, a kindergartener, knew the basics. ″He got the AIDS virus. He’s sick.″

And one reason AIDS strikes is no mystery to children.

″My father said that’s what happens when people do sex without a condom,″ said Henry, a student at I.S. 147 in the Bronx.

Many, like 12-year-old Shawanna Smith, saw a lesson.

″Now people need to take it more seriously - have safe sex,″ she said.

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