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Five Business Lessons We Learned from NBA Legend Magic Johnson

Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. is easily viewed as one of the best point guards of all time after winning three NBA MVP Awards. The former Los Angeles Lakers player holds a number of accolades, including nine NBA Finals appearances and 12 All-Star Game selections.

ALPHARETTA, GEORGIA – JUNE 24: Magic Johnson speaks during the TSP Live 2022 conference at The Hotel at Avalon on June 24, 2022 in Alpharetta, Georgia. (Photo by Derek White/Getty Images)

Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan, to Christine Johnson, a school janitor, and Earvin Johnson Sr., an assembly line worker for General Motors. Magic fell in love with the game of basketball when he played at Everett High School. His skills and performance were noticed by many, including a local sportswriter who saw him score 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists in one game and dubbed him the nickname “Magic.”  

After winning championships in high school and college, the Michigan State University graduate was selected as the first pick of the 1979 NBA draft. He played for the Lakers for 13 seasons until his retirement in 1991. At the time, he made headlines after revealing he was HIV-positive during a press conference. Johnson would return to the league in 1995, playing one final season for the Lakers, this time at power forward.

Following retirement, the 6-foot-9 athlete pivoted his skills from the basketball court to the business room. He’s invested in a bevy of highly successful and lucrative business ventures through his investment empire, The Magic Johnson Enterprises, valued at over $1 billion.

“I wanted to show that athletes could go from the ball court to the board room,” said the 63-year-old in 2017. “Basketball was about details and paying attention to the details. I’m a very detailed-organized guy as a CEO now. And competitive as hell, and I want to win for my partners, investors, for myself, and for the community.”

Here are five lessons from Magic:

1. Educate Yourself Forever and Always 

Johnson is known to promote education. Dedicated toward urban and neglected communities, the motivational speaker opened up about struggling with dyslexia as an adolescent. He overcame the condition, but today he encourages students to achieve success inside and outside of the classroom.  

“So I can come in any room and be effective and [my] track record … Look, yesterday I was talking to our students and I asked them, Why do you think I was the only one? The only Black man outside of Starbucks that owned a Starbucks? Here I am a Black man from the ghetto, from the ghetto … and they were like, ‘What?!?’” Johnson explained. 

He also noted, “Because they know me as a basketball player, but they really don’t know my past. And I said, ‘See, because I got an education, and when I got some money, I knew what to do with it. I didn’t just buy 100 cars or run with 100 dudes.’”

Over the years, Johnson has invested in a number of brands, records labels, films, and radio stations, and opened dozens of retail stores and malls. At one point, he owned a production studio and a chain of 105 Starbucks, which he later sold for $75 million in 2010. That same year, he sold his 4.5% stake in the Lakers team, according to NBC Sports. 

But one of Johnson’s most notable investments came through a partnership with Sony Retail Entertainment. 

2. Support Those Who Support You

Following retirement, Johnson began shifting his efforts towards supporting undeserving communities in the wake of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. The acquittal of LAPD officers over Rodney King’s beating left a world of chaos and business owners victims of looting. 

The philanthropist formed the Johnson Development Corporation and scored a historical deal with Sony Retail Entertainment to build movie theaters in undeserving communities. Three years later, the first Magic Johnson Theatre was built in Baldwin Hills, California. The state-of-the-art cinema featured 12 large screens with comfortable seating and stocked concession stands with pizza, wings, and more. It served as the production set for an episode from season three of UPN’s “The Parkers.” 

The former NBA star expanded the franchise with multiple locations, which he later sold to Loews Cineplex Entertainment in 2004, which was taken over by AMC Entertainment in 2006.

3. Make Friends With the Competition 

Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the NBA in the 1980s alongside forward Larry Bird, who played for the Boston Celtics. Their rivalry was long and infamous.

But in 2009, the two came together to co-author The New York Times best-selling book, “When the Game Was Ours.”

“We actually brought the finals and all the other games to prime-time TV. Larry and I changed the whole league. And also too every other year the Lakers would win or the Celtics would win. So it was just great,” Johnson told Shannnon Sharpe in 2019. “I’m glad we came in together because I had somebody to measure myself to and say, Hey, OK, he’s great. I can’t let him get too far ahead of me. I got to work hard because I want to stay in place with Larry Bird.”

Their competitive spirit turned friendly after Johnson learned he was Bird’s mother’s favorite player during an invitation for lunch. 

Johnson said, “He threw the ‘mom’ in there, so I go to the house. He’s down there and I’m down there. She’s bringing out all the dishes, and she hit him and said, ‘Did you tell him yet?’ He said, ‘No, mom, you tell him.’ She said, ‘Magic, you’re my favorite basketball player.’”

4. Establish a Disciplined Routine

The basketball legend had an immaculate workout routine while playing in the NBA. He still disciplines his body and mind with a daily routine and a well-balanced meal to begin the day. 

“I get up at 4 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. every single morning,” Johnson told CNBC “Make It” in 2020. He allows 30 minutes of “just me time” to prepare for the day’s good deed. He also has other rituals he abides by, which include trips to Europe during the month of August every year. 

“We love it, and every year we go away for five weeks. I work hard and then I look forward to those five weeks in Europe or other places,” he told Forbes. “I told my wife a long time ago, let’s go when we don’t have to worry about coming back, so we can take our time and really enjoy it. Owning my own company allows me to be able to do it. I work hard, and when I’m on vacation I want to be on vacation.”

5. Demonstrate Leadership in All Your Decisions

After a two-year stint, the NBA icon abruptly resigned from his role as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations in May 2019. The decision was announced during a press conference months after LeBron James signed with the team. 

Johnson admitted he “could’ve done it a different way” and better informed James or the team he was leaving. 

“But I did it my way,” he declared on an episode of “First Take.” “And that doesn’t take anything away from our relationship, or how I feel about LeBron. But sometimes, as a man or a woman, you’ve got to make decisions based on your own happiness. And sometimes, you just have to go out and do your thing. And that’s what I did.”

 

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