Athletes Who Are Great Entrepreneurs: Earvin “Magic” Johnson

In November of 1991, Los Angeles Lakers’ legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced he was HIV positive. At the time, information about HIV and AIDS was not as well-known minus the fact that those infected faced an inevitable death shortly thereafter. Because of ignorance it would have been easy to write Magic Johnson off and would have been common to believe he would not be an active, successful businessman thirty years later. If you did that.. A. hopefully, you’ve learned quite a bit about the disease and B. you would have been horribly mistaken. Fast forward to 2020 – Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is one of the most successful professional athletes-turned-businessmen in the history of sports. Today, Magic boasts a net worth of approximately $600 million and has a diverse portfolio of investments and business entities including his business Magic Johnson Enterprises. The former Lakers’ guard is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball, he’s also proven to be pretty good at the game of business.

NBA Career

Magic Johnson played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers for 13 seasons. In that span he won 5 NBA titles and was named Finals and League MVP 3 times each. Remarkably, he was a 12 time NBA All-Star and finished his career averaging 19.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 11.2 assists per game. For those of you keeping score at home that is nearly a triple-double per game. He is currently 5th all-time in career assists in the history of the NBA. In his 13 years of playing he is widely regarded as one of the most prolific guards to play the game. Salaries back in the NBA in 1981 were a lot different than they are in today’s game, however Magic Johnson is the owner of one of the strangest contracts in the history of the sports. In 1981, the Lakers signed Magic to a 25-year, $25 million dollar contract. The goal was to keep him a Laker for life, which worked. In today’s game he would be making more than that in one season. Fortunately, for Magic there were extensions and adjustments to his contract that added money each season to make him one of, if not the, highest paid players in the league. His total career earnings aren’t exactly clear, but it would be safe to say that he earned around $40 million throughout most of his playing days. Because we reference everything here – John Wall, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul are all earning over $40 million this season alone. The fact that Magic is worth $600 million today after making in his career what today’s superstars make in a season truly makes him one of the great pro-athletes-turned-businessmen.

Magic Johnson Enterprises

Magic Johnson’s company Magic Johnson Enterprises is an investment conglomerate that has partnered, developed or invested in close to 30 different companies and entities. Johnson founded the company in 1987. His first major business move was the development of movie theaters in urban areas of California. One of the core fundamentals of Johnson’s business is the development of established businesses in urban communities. In fact, in 1998 Johnson partnered with Starbucks to open the first ever UCO location in Ladera Heights, California. Since then he’s partnered with businesses like TGI Fridays, Fatburger, 24 Hour Fitness and Burger King. Throughout his career he’s had a host of different business affiliations and partnerships that he’s developed and at times would go on to be sold down the road.

In 2012, Magic Johnson Enterprises began to really make moves. That year, Johnson partnered with Guggenheim Baseball Management to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers for a whopping $2 billion. The deal would shatter previous record sports franchise purchases by close to $500 million (next closest was the Glazer family purchase of Manchester United for $1.47 billion). Two years later Johnson would add Los Angeles FC and the Los Angeles Sparks to his ownership group portfolio. There was no question that Johnson would make waves in the sports world, but these acquisitions were tidal waves.

The Magic Johnson Foundation

Magic Johnson’s entrepreneurial endeavors may surpass his achievements on the basketball court. Perhaps his most impactful venture has been his charitable work through the Magic Johnson Foundation. Founded in 1991, MJF was built with three strategic priorities – HIV/AIDS, Scholarship and Community Empowerment Centers. Today, the foundation reaches over 250,000 lives through various services that enhance the lives of economically challenged individuals while also helping empower communities in need. Whether it be through his business or his foundation, Magic Johnson is actively trying to enhance the lives of individuals from multicultural communities. What makes Magic remarkable is the fact he has an ownership stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers amount other entities, yet has never wavered in the mission of reshaping and revitalizing urban areas.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the day Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. For the 30 years after his announcement Johnson did what he’s always done – self-evaluate, adjust and persevere,

“Back when I was playing basketball, I had excelled in every championship. We get to 1984 and I’m playing my rival Larry Bird in the championship. The first time in my life, I failed and didn’t perform well. I was the reason why we lost to the Celtics, I turned the ball over in too many key moves to the Celtics. So we lose. My rival is pouring champagne over his head and I’m crying in the locker room. And I cried all summer. And then I took a SWOT analysis of myself and I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I worked all summer. And I was able to correct it and in ’85 a became a better player.”

“When someone won’t believe in you or your business you have to keep going. If I felt sorry for myself, I wouldn’t be here.”

Magic Johnson has had ups and downs and his lives, but thanks to this mentality not only is he one of the most successful athletes to become an entrepreneur, he’s had a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. THAT is worth more than his net worth.


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