Basketball Hall of Fame player Earvin “Magic” Johnson enjoyed Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Fort Worth while dining on barbecue from his hotel room as the Golden State Warriors routed the Cleveland Cavaliers in Thursday’s series opener.
Then he spent Friday afternoon encouraging more than 40 young men to reach their fullest potential in life. His lesson came when serving as the keynote speaker for the 37th annual Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hilton Hotel.
Johnson’s presentation was entitled “In the Business to Develop Champions,” and it was delivered to students in the My Brother’s Keeper mentoring program to a room filled with business professionals.
Established in 2014 by President Barack Obama, My Brother’s Keeper is meant to “ensure that all young men of color have opportunities to improve their outcomes and overcome barriers to success.”
Johnson was one of the initial co-chairmen of that program, which has been established in about 250 communities. He donated $50,000 to the Fort Worth chapter after the event.
“We need to support these young men,” Johnson said. “I grew up poor, but I didn’t have poor dreams. You’re not going to be in this situation as long as you can educate yourself.”
Johnson shared an abbreviated version of his life story, keeping it light. He joked about the “short shorts” he wore during his 1980s playing days, and his on-court rivalries with fellow Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
“Larry Bird made me a better basketball player and a better man. Same thing with Michael Jordan,” Johnson said. “I was blessed to have them two as my rivals. … Your competitors can make you better.”
Johnson now admires the rivalries in today’s NBA game. He specifically praised the games of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but making it clear that, for him, Jordan remained the best player of all time.
“They not MJ … not yet,” Johnson said of today’s stars. “They’ve got a few more championships to get. MJ got six championships. This MJ [as in Magic Johnson] got five.”
Johnson went on to discuss his newest role with the Los Angeles Lakers as the team’s president of basketball operations. He has gone all-in to bring the Lakers back to relevance, and has personally worked out more than 100 players in advance of this month’s draft. LA holds the No. 2 and No. 28 picks.
Johnson said he turned down similar opportunities from the Detroit Pistons, in his home state of Michigan, and the Golden State Warriors, which would have reunited him with owners and former business partners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
But Johnson opted for the only NBA team he’s been a part of – the Lakers. He believes he can help snap what has become a three-year playoff drought and get them back on track after a franchise-worst 17-65 record last year.
“I’m a Laker,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a little ways to go ‘cause that team called Golden State, and San Antonio and Houston, are some powerful teams that we have to slowly get up to.
“We’re going to get there, trust me, we’ll definitely get there. There’s a lot of players who want to play again for the Lakers. In a year or two, we’re going to be right where we need to be.”
It’s hard to bet against Johnson, who has found success in everything he’s done on and off the court.
Johnson talked about his success in owning 125 Starbucks stores; building movie theaters; and being part of a group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers for an MLB-record $2.1 billion in 2012.
Johnson related his business success to the young men around him.
“When the Dodgers came up for sale, the fan base of Los Angeles said we want local ownership and we want Magic to be one of the local owners,” Johnson said. “I am sitting up there with six billionaires. Wait a minute … I’m from the ghetto, raised just like all of you, and I’m meeting with six billionaires? What a blessing.
“But if I didn’t get my education and take advantage of that education, then I wouldn’t know what to say, what to ask, what to negotiate with those six billionaires.
“So education is going to be the key for all of you to be successful.”