When EJ Johnson Came Out As Gay, He Wasn’t Prepared For Magic Johnson’s Reaction

In his time, Magic Johnson was one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. After a devastating early retirement, however, the basketball legend turned his attention to charity work and business ventures as well as his family. Yes, Magic is married with three kids, and today his wife, Cookie, and fashion icon son, EJ, are arguably just as popular as the 6’ 9” All-Star. When EJ came out to his father, though, the Rich Kids of Beverly Hills star may not have been expecting the stunning reaction that he received.

And regardless of their celebrity status, the Johnsons have had their share of difficulties in the past. After all, sometimes different generations just don’t see eye to eye – whether the subject being discussed is fashion, music, lifestyle or religion. That appeared to be the case with the Johnson clan, too, when EJ revealed some news that was close to his heart.

In fact, during a conversation between parents and son, Magic’s reaction to EJ’s revelation shocked the family. Luckily, Cookie was at least on hand to help the former NBA star see things in a better light. But before we find out exactly what went on between the Johnsons, let’s take a look back at Magic’s career.

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Earvin “Magic” Johnson entered the world in 1959, and he looked tipped for success at a young age. The Lansing, Michigan, native’s domination of high school ball even earned the player his famous nickname. Yes, after one particularly stellar performance, journalist Fred Stabley Jr. dubbed the future Lakers point guard “magic.” And when you look at the stats of the game in question, it’s easy to see why.

Indeed, a star was very much born that day in 1974. During the game, the teenager boosted Everett High’s chances of victory with 16 assists, 18 rebounds and a whopping 36 points. Then, after graduating high school, Magic took up a place at Michigan State University. And it was while playing for the Spartans that his famous feud with fellow player Larry Bird began.

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The bad blood started with a Spartans victory over Bird’s Indiana State during the National Collegiate Athletic Association finals in 1979. In 1984, however, Magic and his rival made a commercial for Converse together and finally buried the hatchet. And since then, the pair have appeared in a documentary together; in 2019 they even received the first-ever joint NBA Lifetime Achievement Award.

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That Spartans victory also helped propel Magic to the All-American team in 1979. Then, after having enrolled as a communication major two years earlier, the student left college to pursue basketball full-time. And that may just prove one of the best decisions the Michigan native ever made.

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Later that year, you see, Magic became the Los Angeles Lakers’ first choice draft pick. And when his contract was inked, it began a partnership that would last nearly two decades and see Magic become the highest-paid sportsman in history. The point guard would also lead the team to five league championships, while fans of the game voted him Most Valuable Player (MVP) on three separate occasions.

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Indeed, while Magic was originally attracted to the Lakers by the prospect of rubbing shoulders with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his own talent would make him a superstar. In over 900 games, the player notched up an enormous list of achievements, including scoring a career total of 17,707 points and reaching the All-Star single-game assists record of 22. And the honors don’t end there, either.

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In 1996, for instance, the NBA included Magic on its list of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time. He’s also credited with introducing a new style of basketball to the league, called, appropriately enough, Showtime. And ESPN even considers Magic to be one of the 50 Best Athletes of the 20th Century. In a 2006 article, the network said of the Lakers legend, “It could be argued that he’s the one player in NBA history who was better than Michael Jordan.”

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And topping off an already accomplished career, in 1992 Magic won an Olympic gold medal playing for the U.S.’ so-called “Dream Team” – a squad that included greats of the game Charles Barkley, Jordan and Magic’s former nemesis Bird. Taking all this into account, then, it’s not tough to see how he ultimately became an inductee of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Yet the Lakers star’s life hasn’t been completely charmed since his rise to basketball fame. In the early ’90s, in fact, he’d face an intensely public and personal challenge.

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Following a medical exam prior to the NBA’s 1991-1992 season, Magic tested positive for HIV. And in November of 1991, the player publicly announced not only his diagnosis, but also his immediate retirement from basketball. Eventually, he would humbly admit that he had slept with numerous women before finding out his HIV status. But while the world reeled from this shocking news, sports fans rallied around the star.

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Yes, Magic’s status didn’t stop basketball aficionados from voting him onto 1992’s All-Star game. And despite protests from other players about his taking part, the NBA legend proved his worth by becoming the MVP in that match-up. Selection for that summer’s Olympic Games also saw Magic picked – in what would turn out to be one of Team USA’s best decisions.

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In any case, the Dream Team dominated the basketball competition at the 1992 Olympics, winning every single one of their eight games. What’s more, the crowds loved it and gave the HIV-positive player standing ovations on multiple occasions. Perhaps things were starting to look up for Magic.

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Touchingly, off the court, the Lakers star had already established the Magic Johnson Foundation to increase awareness of and help in the battle against HIV/AIDS. And since its inception, the organization has provided over 38,000 free AIDS tests across the country as well as scholarships and outreach to thousands of young people. Furthermore, it was during this period that the star also found some joy in his personal life.

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In fact, in the same year that Magic discovered his HIV status, he also married his partner, Earlitha Kelly, in an intimate ceremony in Lansing. Kelly – better known these days as Cookie – is a clothing designer and public speaker, and together she and her husband have two children: son EJ, who arrived into the world in 1992, and daughter Elisa, whom the couple adopted in 1995.

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And although Magic continued to play basketball on and off for the NBA, he ultimately retired from the league for good in 1996. Yet this still wasn’t the end of his time in the sport. For one, the former Lakers point guard put together the Magic Johnson All-Stars touring team; he even spent a brief stint playing in Europe to boot.

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Then there are Magic’s forays into business – which, it seems, have proved very lucrative. In fact, Magic Johnson Enterprises – which was founded back in 1987 – is now worth around $700 million. And over the past 30 years, the investment firm has had its hand in a large array of endeavors, including the Los Angeles Lakers. The former NBA star has even worked as a chat show host and authored a number of books. Yet he’s not the only Johnson family member to make their mark on TV.

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In recent years, you see, Magic’s son EJ has become something of a pop culture phenomenon. After publicly coming out in 2013, the TV personality took an ongoing role on reality series Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. Swiftly promoted to a main cast member for season two, he remained on the show until its cancelation in 2016.

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Along the way, the gender-fluid star also became a commentator for E! News as well as a regular on Fashion Police. He even landed his own show, EJNYC, which followed him around New York after his relocation to the Big Apple. That series was rather pioneering, too, being one of the first to feature a person of color who is also LGBTQ. But sadly, E! canceled EJNYC after just six episodes. And EJ himself was not best pleased.

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Lamenting the show’s passing, in 2017 EJ told The New York Times, “It was sad. It was, like, this is supposed to be my show and my moment, and it wasn’t what I wanted at all.” However, the axing didn’t deter the reality star from further pursuing the limelight. From there, EJ took a guest spot on Real Husbands of Hollywood; he also planned to start a fashion career.

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But getting to that level of success wasn’t always easy for EJ. And as he discussed on Red Table Talk in June 2018, family members aren’t always that helpful when you need them, either. In fact, a parent’s reaction to their child can sometimes be hurtful and shocking – even when they’re both in the public eye.

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Still, Red Table Talk itself is known for its mature treatment of sensitive subjects. On the show, hosts Jada Pinkett Smith, her mom, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and daughter, Willow, tackle everything from motherhood to religion along with their famous guests. And the web series has proved a massive hit, too.

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Since the Facebook Watch show premiered in May 2018, in fact, millions have tuned in to watch the trio and others discuss topics such as immigration, abuse, race, and gender. What’s more, these discussions often lead to moving moments – even tears. And it’s not just audiences that love the frank, no-holds-barred debates.

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Critics have lauded Red Table Talk, too, with The Washington Post particularly praising the series for its “authenticity.” Prestigious honors have also come the show’s way: it bagged a People’s Choice Award nomination in 2018 and a Daytime Emmy Award nod the following year.

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And it was on Red Table Talk that EJ and his mom, Cookie, chose to open up about the own experiences. Appearing alongside the trio of hosts, the mother-and-son pair were there specifically to discuss raising LBGTQ children. Yet while EJ is clearly now out and proud, it wasn’t always like that for him growing up.

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During the episode, Cookie tells a story about a Johnson family vacation to Hawaii. EJ was a teenager back then, and the mom noticed during the trip that her son didn’t seem to have any sexual interest in women. She explains of that time, “When the guys went by, [EJ was] like, ‘Ooh!’ And then the girls go by and… Nothing. And I was like, ‘Okay, we need to have a talk.’”

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The mom of two continues, “The talk wasn’t, ‘You can’t be this.’ The talk was, ‘Do you think you are? Before you answer that, though, know that if you are, I’m okay with it.’” This is perhaps the attitude that every LGBTQ child hopes for from their parents. Cookie then adds, “[EJ] said, ‘Yes, I think I am,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’”

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But while Cookie may have reacted well to her son coming out, it seems that Magic took another position. And the mom said that when she and EJ finally “had the talk” with her husband, his reaction shocked them. According to Cookie, after finding out about EJ’s sexuality, the former NBA star said, “This is not what I want for my son.” Magic reportedly went on, “Do you realize what you’re saying? Because the world is not going to like that. Do you want to live this life?”

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And Cookie was as stunned as her son by what Magic had said. “It hurt my feelings, and I know it hurt [EJ’s] feelings,” she explains during Red Table Talk. In the aftermath of that conversation, then, Cookie says that she had told her husband, “That wasn’t right.” Yet although she got no response at the time, her words seem to have had an effect.

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You see, despite Magic’s initial reaction, Cookie claims that the father went to his son “the very next day.” And EJ picks up the story from there. “He was like, ‘We’re going to get through this. I just need time.’ And we both just kinda started crying a little bit.”

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Then, not long after that conversation, EJ left home for New York. There, he took up a place at New York University to study hospitality, design and event planning. And during his time at college, the student received a visit from Magic – which itself apparently led to a night of healing.

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On the Red Table Talk episode, EJ goes on to explain, “[My father] picked me up for dinner. He hugged me so hard [that] he almost broke my back. At that point, I was like, ‘We’re going to be okay.’” It seems that time was indeed all the former NBA star needed to process his son’s relevation.

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“I could really feel the love [from my dad],” EJ added. “At that point, I was like, ‘You know what? We’re going to be fine.’” And despite that rocky period, the reality star credits his parents with helping him become the person he is today. “They gave me a good dose of nurturing and affection but also reality,” he explains. “They were like, ‘You need to know that not everybody is going to have that same love and respect for you.’”

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And while that may be true, Magic definitely seems to be someone that loves and respects his son. Since EJ’s coming out, you see, the basketball legend has publicly supported his child, including during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. On that occasion, the host asked him what advice he could potentially give to other parents of LGBTQ kids.

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During that 2017 interview, Magic responds, “I think it’s all about you not trying to decide what your daughter or son should be or what you want them to become. It’s all about loving them no matter who they are or what they decide to do.” And the words of wisdom didn’t end there.

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The NBA All-Star goes on, “You’ve got to support your child because there are so many people who try to discriminate against them. So, they need you to support them… If you don’t support them, who is going to support them and love them?” And that led to a touching round of applause from the studio audience.

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Plus, Magic praised EJ’s decision to be himself. “When my son came out, I was so happy for him – so happy for [me and Cookie] as parents,” he told Ellen. “We love him. EJ is amazing.” So, from fraught beginnings, it seems that the father and son have definitely come to a place of love and understanding.

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And with Magic and Cookie having helped EJ live his truth, he continues to fly the flag for LGBTQ rights. Thanks to his advocacy work, in fact, the Human Rights Campaign paid tribute to the reality personality in 2019 with the prestigious Upstander Award – an honor that already holds some significance to the Johnsons.

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You see, EJ handed the very same award to his parents in 2014. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s website, Magic and Cookie were chosen as recipients “for being voices for equality and sharing their unconditional love for their son.” And it all goes to show that, despite that early drama, the Johnsons’ strong family bond can get them through anything.

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