“God is so good!” Earvin ‘Magic' Johnson exclaimed on Monday as he marked 20 years of surviving with HIV.

“Wow,” he added. “What a blessing.”

Monday's news conference at the Staples Center could not have been more different from the historic one at the forum 20 years ago, when the basketball icon announced that he had tested positive for the virus.

“Because of the HIV virus that I have obtained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” Mr. Johnson had said.

And although he also said, “I plan to go on living for a long time,” few believed it was possible.

“I was scared to death like everyone else was,” said the former Lakers coach, Pat Riley, adding: “But I also know Earvin. I know him very well, and if there's anybody who ever says that he's going to beat something and try to eradicate it from the planet, then he's the person to do it.”A former team mate James Worthy agreed. “It was like Game Seven or something. From Day One, he didn't blink. That's kind of the way he approaches life.”Johnson created the Magic Johnson Foundation the same year he was diagnosed, and it now serves more than 2, 50,000 people annually.

By being the face of the AIDS-causing virus, Johnson has raised awareness about the disease, championed the search for a cure and raised money to help the afflicted.

Johnson and his wife, Cookie, had decided together that he should reveal his infection.

The fateful news conference marked a turning point in the way the public regarded HIV/AIDS, said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“In the face of silence about HIV and the fear surrounding the disease, Magic Johnson stood up, looked into the cameras and said loudly and clearly, ‘I've got it',” the Mayor said.

Aside from providing free HIV/AIDS testing, the Foundation also provides food to inner-city families, provides scholarships to children, and offers computer training and other classes at its Community Empowerment Centers.

To date, the Foundation has donated about $10 million to help people. On Monday, 40 business leaders chipped in $25,000 each to raise $1 million for the Foundation.

A cure for AIDS remains elusive, however, and a leading doctor in the field cautioned against complacency.

“This is perhaps the worst plague in human history,” Dr. David Ho said, noting that 25 million people have died of the disease.

He added 30 million people are currently living with the lethal virus, and 7,000 new infections are detected every day across the world -- mostly in the developing countries. — New York Times News Service