Magic Johnson talks success on, off court

Published 9:57pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BENTON HARBOR — About 70 percent of NBA players go broke within five years of retiring.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson isn’t one of them.

Magic Johnson

His winning ways on the court have translated to the business world.

The owner of Magic Johnson Enterprises, a $700 million company, Johnson has helped revitalize Brooklyn and other communities across the country.

Speaking to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at the Mendel Center in Benton Harbor Tuesday, he talked about his success on the court — as a winner of five NBA championships and an NCCA title — and off the court as a businessman and philanthropist.

“When I left the NBA, I wanted to be a businessman,” he said. “So I got me some mentors … I grabbed something from everybody.”

Johnson described his efforts to build Magic Johnson Enterprises into a company with AMC Magic Johnson Theatres in four cities, 116 Starbucks in 14 states, 31 Burger King restaurants and 13 24-Hour Fitness/Magic Johnson Sport health clubs.

“I’ve been trying to improve the lives of people who live in urban America, put them to work,” Johnson said. “We’re in 122 cities. So our footprint is big.”

He is also starting a television network, Aspire, targeting black viewers with positive messages about the African-American community.

Johnson said one of the keys to his success in business and community development is to “over-deliver.”

“Today no longer can we just deliver. We have to over-deliver for clients, customers and the community,” he said.

That can also be said about his efforts on the court, where he led the Lakers to the Finals nine times in 12 years.

He attributed his success to hours in the gym and his fiery competitive spirit.

“I love the game,” he said. “You have to bring passion to the game. And you have to work hard and want to win.”

Johnson was also awarded the key to the city of Benton Harbor by Mayor James Hightower, which triggered an emotional response from the Michigan native.

“It’s such an honor,” he said, choking back tears.

During a question and answer session following his speech, Johnson gave his predictions for champions in college and the NBA.

Johnson said at the beginning of the season he picked the Miami Heat but he is now leaning toward the Chicago Bulls.

“There’s no holes in their game,” he said.

A Michigan State alum, Johnson answered the question about the NCAA title by simply pointing to a boy wearing a Spartans jersey.

When asked if Kobe Bryant or LeBron James is the better player, Johnson said it was an easy question to answer.

“Kobe,” he said, pointing out his 5-0 advantage in NBA titles.

“LeBron dominates the regular season. He’s the best player in the game until he gets to the playoffs,” he said. “He doesn’t come through in winning time.”

When asked by a young man for advice about winning in basketball, Johnson offered some sage advice.

“Be unique, play the game the right way, and win as a team,” he said. “A lot of people have scored a lot of points in games. If you don’t win, you’re not unique.”

Johnson closed the evening by signing autographs for hundreds of fans.

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