Our first thought was, We're going to watch him die. He will wither away in the most public fashion because Earvin Johnson, called Magic, can't do it any other way. He will visit with Arsenio and Jay, he'll go on Nightline from time to time, and he'll no doubt be a halftime guest at the NBA Finals. On each occasion he'll look a little weaker, a little more captive to a disease that defies understanding, and we'll turn away and shake our heads.
November 7, 1991, was one of those seismic Where-were-you-when-you-heard? moments in American culture. Even if you didn't follow pro sports, you knew Magic--whose last name, like Michael's and Larry's, was superfluous--was part of the holy triumvirate that had saved pro basketball. There he was, telling us, with the imprecise language that was part of his charm, that he had "attained" the AIDS virus, as if it were another goal he'd reached in a storied career: five championship rings, three MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, one deadly disease. From what information he gave us in succeeding days, it was in fact a form of attainment, the consequence of sexual encounters--heterosexual encounters, Magic emphasized as rumors about his sexual orientation swirled--in offices, in elevators, with multiple partners, the profane fruit of the Penthouse Forum fantasy life available to superstars.
Many thought that Magic was lying about his sexual preference and that he had gotten what all of those blasphemous sodomites deserved. Many were trying to get their minds around the cold reality that heterosexuals could contract a "gay disease" that had emerged, sinister and deadly, only 10 years earlier. Many of all sexual persuasions began using prophylactics, or as Magic put it (in that overly precious way that made us cringe), to "put your thinking caps on, and put your cap on down there." Still, whether you were shaking your head at Magic's indiscretions or weeping at the man's misfortune, you couldn't deny the cruel irony of the revelation: that when a well-known athlete contracted this horrible virus, it turned out to be one of the best, and best-loved, athletes on earth.
August 19, 2001
Ten years. Michael has retired, unretired, retired and perhaps unretired again. Larry is just gone. The Lakers have fallen and risen. And Magic is still here. Millions of young people have never lived in a culture without AIDS. Almost all of us know someone who has died of the disease, but almost all of us know someone who is living with it, too. Ten years. We know everything about AIDS. We know nothing.
Seeing Magic intensifies our confusion. He looks so hale and hearty that maybe it's true what we've heard, that he has somehow swerved around the disease as if it were a backpedaling defender on a fast break. Or does he look bloated? Too big? Is some bizarre steroid treatment part of his daily medicinal regimen? Will the disease reappear one day, in the manner of an intruder jumping out from a dark corner, and ravage him? Or will he be Magic for the next 50 years (box, page 78)?
We don't know all the answers. We may not know most of them. This much we do know: Earvin (Magic) Johnson--who owns movie theaters and shopping plazas; who brainstorms in boardrooms with some of America's leading executives; who has helped transform the concept of inner-city business; who recently got his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, near those of Chuck Norris and Liza Minnelli; who owns 5% of the NBA's championship franchise; who works out each day with the zeal of a young man trying to make an Olympic team; who has a loving wife and three children; who approaches life with an indefatigability that defies description--has not withered away. He is, in fact, the most public representative of a new subgroup in American society: "long-term nonprogressors," who are surviving with HIV and, in some cases, thriving.
Ed O'Bannon, the gangly, mad-hopping forward who led UCLA to the 1995 NCAA title, remembers where he was when he heard the news. "Somebody came into the training room and said Magic was retiring because he had AIDS," says O'Bannon, shaking his head as he takes a break from a noontime pickup game in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. "I didn't believe it. When I watched the press conference later that day, it broke my heart. It was one of the lowest moments of my life because he was my favorite player of all time. We all thought he was going to die." O'Bannon smiles and points to the action on the court. "Now look at him."
Magic, who turned 42 on Aug. 14, is the oldest player on the court by 15 years. He runs with a gimpy, stiff-kneed stride, no longer employing what he used to call "that old hippety-hop," a gear-changing gait that masked average quickness. However, the old man wearing a long-sleeved gold jersey and long shorts--the boys had just joshed him about the Lakers short shorts they had seen on him in an ESPN Classic clip--is still unmistakably Magic. Yes, at times he looks a bit slow, but there are as many times when he's the center of the action, when his size and his spin move enable him to get to the basket almost at will. (A month after this pickup game Magic will make his once-a-summer appearance in a Los Angeles Summer Pro League game and walk away smiling after a 20-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple double.)
Magic picks the teams, mandates the parameters of the game, initiates the action with a "Let's get it on, let's roll." He keeps up a constant barrage of chatter (That's your spot! Trailer comin'! Go to work now!), while acting as scorekeeper and referee. Most decisions are favorable to his team. "What, we're going to go against him?" says O'Bannon. "That's one of the five greatest players ever out there." Magic weaves down the court like a canny old boxer weaves around the ring, head bobbing, eyes wide open, seeing all points on the hardcourt compass. He stops, sets up, backs his man down and releases a hook shot that drops through the net. "Vintage," says former UCLA star Toby Bailey. "That s--- is vintage."
It is hot in the gym, and the players are sweating bullets. One remembers a time when Magic's perspiration was an international issue, every droplet a viral mystery or, worse, a viral time bomb. Members of Australia's basketball team, worried about the health implications of rubbing against someone with the AIDS virus, threatened to boycott if Magic played in the 1992 Olympics. (He played, and so did the Aussies.) Several NBA players expressed fears about contracting the disease through an exchange of sweat. The tabloids played into the fears of a nation that only six years earlier had pondered whether Ryan White, a 13-year-old hemophiliac who had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, should be permitted to attend public school, and a year after that had heard William F. Buckley Jr. propose that AIDS sufferers be tattooed for identification purposes.
"We had an account of a saliva-to-sweat exchange that resulted in an AIDS death," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "We had another report of someone getting AIDS through contact in a soccer game. Our doctors kept insisting that it couldn't happen, and, ultimately, that's what we believed. But it was a crazy, crazy time."
Out on the court Magic collides with another player. They go down, shake it off and help each other up. "I swear we don't even think about him having the virus anymore," says O'Bannon. "It never comes up. I wonder if some of the younger players out there even know he has it."
Magic's day began five hours before, with a one-mile jog around UCLA's track. Then he ran stairs for 15 minutes before dashing off three 220s. Then he lifted weights with a trainer for 90 minutes in the UCLA gym. Then he laced 'em up for several full-court go-rounds with the twentysomethings. His six-days-a-week workout plan varies in specifics but rarely in intensity. The next day, for example, he began with the jog, but before the hoops at Pauley, he punished himself at Gold's Gym in Venice, one of the most serious workout facilities in the world.
Magic has added significant muscle since he left the NBA. He was 6'9" and about 235 pounds when he retired, but we recall him just as clearly as a skinny 210-pounder, his weight when he came out of Michigan State as a sophomore at age 19. Now, he's 6'9" and at least 250 pounds. "I'd put Earvin's body age at about 30 or 31, 10 years younger than he is," says Charles Glass, a 47-year-old Gold's trainer. "He has tremendous endurance and strength. He has definition all over, particularly on his triceps and back, musculature you never saw when he was playing."
Magic's Lakers jersey hangs on one wall of Gold's. His presence attracts a few stares and many conversations. "Men our size, men who work out their whole life and then suddenly stop, we tend to blow up," says Magic, grunting and groaning on an abs machine. He ups the weight and adds with a smile, "Like Charles [Barkley]." A young man comes by, chats and then takes Magic's place on the bench. If he is worried about planting himself in Magic's sweat, he doesn't show it.
By the time Magic finishes his calorie-shedding smorgasbord and heads for the showers, it's almost 1 p.m. He had left his Beverly Hills home and his family of three--wife Cookie; son E.J., 9; and daughter Elisa, 6, adopted in 1995 (Andre, a 20-year-old son from an earlier relationship, lives in an apartment in Beverly Hills)--at 6:15 that morning. "Athletes don't like to get up early," says Magic, "but it never bothered me." After attending a Lakers playoff game that evening, he will not get home until midnight. That's a typical day for him. "I'm used to him being away," says Cookie. "When he first retired, he was sitting home a lot, and that's when he was miserable. He needs to be doing something."
It seems to be something of a Peter Pan existence, the former athlete devoting the first six hours of each day to tuning up his body, but Magic believes he is helping ward off the virus with his physical regimen, and he might be right. "That Magic has created something very positive out of something very negative can't be ruled out as a significant factor in his health," says Eric Daar, a specialist in infectious disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a research colleague of David Ho, the most respected AIDS expert in the U.S. "There is no definitive research on the relationship of psychosocial issues to disease, but most doctors will tell you that patients who don't cope don't do well."
By the time Magic emerges from his shower, the phone messages have piled up. "You're late for a lunch at La Scala," his executive assistant, Anjie Delgardo, tells him. He shakes his head and climbs into his black Bentley. "I'm always late for something."
The offices of Magic Johnson Enterprises are at 9100 Wilshire Boulevard, prime Beverly Hills real estate. When he walks through the door after his lunch at La Scala, an Armani-clad satrap surveying one of his provinces, a snap-to-it energy infuses the place. It is peopled with extraordinarily young, extraordinarily attractive, extraordinarily well-dressed people, nearly all of them African-American. This office is one of the very few places in the world where Magic is "Mr. Johnson." All 25 of his employees know that if they don't produce, they can expect an earful of hell from the boss. An old friend of Magic's has been fired twice, taken back twice and told she'd better not screw up again. There is no written dress code, but the employees understand they have to look professional, which means ties and dress shirts for the men, skirts or business suits for the women. If Mr. Johnson sees a slip in adherence to the dress code, he will inform Nikkole Denson, who manages the office, and she will fire off a memo.
Despite the respect he commands at the office, Magic's success (box, page 77) is at first hard to fathom. He seems to lack--how to put it?--a fundamental seriousness. At worst his demeanor is that of the eager-to-please Rotarian, a man getting by on a handshake and a smile. At best, he's a man who craves affection. There was always a shamelessness about him, an eagerness to stalk the spotlight and fall into that jock proclivity of referring to himself in the third person. That partly explains his disastrous 1998 foray into late-night television, the short-lived The Magic Hour, during which he proved that an extravagant smile, a nice suit and a willingness to suck up to B-list celebrities doth not a talk-show host make.
For him, though, failure is nothing, challenge is everything. "The TV show wasn't successful," he says, "but so what? I'm the one who will take chances, not worry about the backlash. The day after the show ended, it was on to something else."
Magic's defining quality is leadership. Memory conjures up a moment from the 1987 championship series, 30 minutes after the Lakers beat the Celtics 141-122 in Game 2 at the Forum. Magic was terse. Next to him, Michael Cooper, the well-liked veteran sixth man who was as gregarious as Magic and three years his elder, chatted away to reporters.
"Coop, wrap it up," said Magic.
"O.K., Buck," said Cooper, using the team nickname for Magic. But he kept yakking.
Magic put his hand, not gently, on Cooper's shoulder and said, "Coop! I said, That's it! Now!" Like a chastened second-grader, Cooper packed his bag and left.
From the moment he first put on the purple and gold as a rookie, his stewardship of the Lakers was accepted, and if he led the NBA in enthusiastic teammate butt-slapping, he was also right up there in teammate butt-kicking. A leader knows how to work both ends, how to make people feel special at the same time he's getting everything out of them. "His greatest gift is communicating that he's interested in you," says Warren Grant, who has handled Magic's finances for nearly 15 years. "He's not like entertainment people who might be looking at you, but you can see that all they're thinking about is the next call they have to make." Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz, whose business brain Magic started tapping in the late '80s, says that in his staff meetings he frequently brings up Magic's gift for communication. "That skill is extremely rare, and Magic has it to an unbelievable degree," says Ovitz.
Early in his career Magic came to Lakers owner Jerry Buss asking for business tips; it never occurred to him that the owner wouldn't take him seriously. After only a few years in the league Magic would arrange to meet with high-ranking executives from Fortune 500 companies during road trips. What did he bring to those meetings except an anecdote or two about Larry or Michael? Himself, that's what. While Magic was pressing flesh and flapping gums, he was making mental notes, moving toward a dream that began when he had a yard-cleaning franchise as a 10-year-old in Lansing, Mich.
In interviews Magic typically comes across as kind of spacey, unable to pin down that exact word, using smile and guile to convey his thoughts, which don't seem all that organized. In truth he is a hard-edged pragmatist. "Anyone who thinks Magic is a success in business because of his personality doesn't know business," says Buss. "A lot of famous athletes open one restaurant with their name on it. Compare that to having an empire." Helped by Ken Lombard, president of his Johnson Development Corp., Magic has been almost unerring in his business moves. "He hasn't had a misstep in 10 years," says Ovitz.
Magic enthusiastically details tendencies of African-American consumers that others might be afraid to describe for fear of being labeled a racist. He was convinced, for example, that while African-Americans enjoy the same movies as Caucasians, they would enjoy watching them more amid an audience of their own because they could shout with impunity. "We like yelling at that screen, don't we, Anjie?" he says to his assistant. The Magic Theater refreshments have been "tweaked toward the minorities," as Magic puts it: sweeter drinks ("Black people were raised on Kool-Aid") and spicy sausage. In his Starbucks you can wash down sweet potato pie with the exorbitantly priced caffeine, and, blessedly, you can hear a wider variety of music than in other Starbucks, some Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis. In his TGI Friday's you can get sour-apple martinis ("Black women love sour-apple martinis") and fried food that isn't on all Friday's menus.
If one of his Starbucks runs out of the cobbler for a couple of days, Magic will know it and someone will get an unpleasant phone call. Yes, there was a free-flowing creativity to his playing style, but Magic was the one who knew everyone else's position, the one who would rail at A.C. Green if he wasn't in the right spot to set that off-the-ball screen for James Worthy. Even as a young player, Magic impressed Grant, whose client list includes Cher, David Spade and Ray Liotta, by insisting that he, Magic, scrutinize every bill and sign every check. "The finances of most athletes are a disaster because they are surrounded by family members, friends, friends of friends, coaches and coaches' friends, who give them financial advice," says Grant. "They listen to all of them. Earvin listens to none of them. That's why he's made his money grow."
Lombard says the boss thinks nothing of sending back a $15 item on an expense report if he considers the explanation unsatisfactory. "He has eyes everywhere," says Denson. The man lives for details. One of Delgardo's duties is to correct mistakes in Magic's vocabulary, instantly and without fear of rebuke. There shall be no more "attaining" the AIDS virus. "I'm a control freak but in a good way I hope," he says.
Magic can't wait to get to the office each afternoon to start reading printouts. "I know how much popcorn was sold in my movie theaters the night before and how much coffee was sold in my Starbucks," he says. "It's my name and my money. I don't fool around with that."
People who do business with Magic can expect a careful but creative man, one who depends heavily on Lombard and Grant for the major deals but who has become confident in his own abilities as a businessman, just as he was as a player. They are also getting involved with the world's most prominent HIV-positive individual.
Magic was never branded, exiled to a leper colony or bled with leeches. He has a world-class athletic body that helped him fight disease, virtually unlimited personal funds and access to the best medical treatment in the world. Nonetheless, don't think this man didn't suffer.
The worst time was the late summer and early fall of 1992, 10 months after his earth-rattling press conference, after he had helped the U.S. win a gold medal in Barcelona and announced he wanted to return to the NBA. Medical expert after medical expert insisted that the chances of his infecting another player through incidental contact were infinitesimal, but that did not allay the fears. A number of NBA players (Mark Price, Gerald Wilkins, Scott Skiles among them) voiced strong concerns over Magic's playing. Several athletes from other sports (NFLers Troy Aikman and Steve Atwater, to name two), weighed in with the same opinion. So did one of Magic's Dream Team mates, Karl Malone, whom Magic considered a friend. (Malone apologized.) Two Lakers, Green and Byron Scott, had questioned Magic's participation in the All-Star Game seven months earlier, as had Houston Rockets coach Don Chaney. The Phoenix Suns' Jerry Colangelo, one of the most powerful owners in the game, said he was concerned that Magic's return would present a health risk to players with million-dollar contracts.
At least one influential journalist, Dave Kindred of The Sporting News, demanded that Magic "tell the whole truth about how he acquired the AIDS virus." For weeks the newspapers were filled with stories about how one of Magic's close friends, who turned out to be Isiah Thomas, had spread rumors that Magic was bisexual. Magic lost nearly all his endorsement deals after announcing he was positive. "And that was just what the public knew about," says Lon Rosen, Magic's former agent and a close friend. "What he went through in private--the things people said to him, the letters he got--was horrible."
He had to deal with something else as well: the looks of pity. "We had seen the course of AIDS, and there was the expectation that he was on a certain path to a short-term death," says Stern. A foreign journalist asked Magic during the Olympics, "How does it feel knowing you won't watch your children grow up?" That wasn't considered ignorant overstatement; that was the prevailing belief. You get the virus, you develop AIDS, you die.
On Nov. 2, 1992--34 days after he officially announced he was coming back, two days after a photo of Lakers trainer Gary Vitti tending to a cut on Magic's forearm without using gloves ran in newspapers all over the country, four days before the start of the regular season--Magic packed it in. Uncharacteristically, he didn't even show up at the press conference, enlisting Rosen to read this statement: "It has become obvious that the various controversies surrounding my return are taking away from both basketball as a sport and the larger issue of living with HIV for me and the many people affected." Privately, he told his friends, "It's just no fun."
For Magic, the worst part of any of it--worse than the public criticism; the ostracism, subtle and otherwise, from his peers; the loss of pride; the loss of income--was obvious: no basketball. When he quit, he was less than 18 months removed from a championship series. (Jordan's Chicago Bulls had beaten Magic's Lakers in five games.) He was a year removed from the Lakers' trip to the McDonald's Open in Paris, where the shouts of "Ma-jeek! Ma-jeek!" followed him as he gamboled down the Champs ?lysees. He was not at the top of his game, but he wasn't close to finished, which he was when he made an abbreviated 32-game return in 1995. What did he lose because he was driven out of the sport by fear? A few thousand points? A couple thousand assists? A thousand more jolts of adrenaline from doing the one thing he has loved more than anything else?
Magic doesn't dwell on what he calls "negativity." He is, as Mickey Mellman, Magic's personal doctor, says, "a man who is so optimistic that he doesn't see the glass half full--he doesn't even see the glass." Still, the memory of that dark time will never leave him.
"They took so much from me," Magic says, pushing around a last forkful of whole-wheat pancakes at a Venice cafe after a workout at Gold's. "The basketball, the commercials, the love I had for the game. It was tough, and I'm not a person who thinks much about 'tough.' I was pissed off, even though I never said I was pissed off and never showed it. I figured I would play five, six more years. When I came back the second time [in '95], no, I wasn't the same player. But had I been able to continue all that while, I would've been."
He takes a sip of fruit juice. Magic eats deliberately, polite bites of food, small sips of drink. He's always done it that way. When he was a player, he had one nonnegotiable rule about autographs: He would not sign when he was eating.
"I quit for one reason and one reason only: I didn't want to ruin the game that Larry, Michael and I had helped build back up," he says. "I would never let someone drive me out. I'm not built that way. But the controversy was hurting the game. Quitting was the right thing to do, but it hurt."
He cleans his plate, smiles and continues: "What made it easier was that I had something to do. Man, I can't think of how guys make it when they leave this game early and don't have something to fall back on. But I had business. If I hadn't, my guess is I would've fought more to stay in basketball, and that might've been a mistake."
He's asked if his premature retirement and HIV status motivated him to become more successful in business. "Most definitely," he answers. "I got turned on when people said, It's all over for Magic. I wanted to show them I wasn't going away."
A 553-word item in a June 5, 1981, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly report described the deaths of five young Los Angeles men, "all active homosexuals," from a rare parasitic lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. In the two decades since, 22 million people have died of AIDS. About 438,000 of those deaths occurred in the U.S. Originally called GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency, AIDS is recognized as one of the worst plagues in history. About 36 million people have HIV, 25 million of them in Africa, about eight million in other underdeveloped nations in Asia and India. The majority will develop full-blown AIDS and die. "The cycle of despair in those countries is hard to eradicate," says Daar, the L.A. AIDS specialist. "The disease is out of control. Drugs and funds are limited. So victims think, Why should I get tested for a disease that will cause discrimination against me and that I'll probably die from anyway?"
Magic is one of an estimated 900,000 Americans infected with HIV, one third of whom don't know they have it because they haven't been tested. About 320,000 of those 900,000 have developed AIDS. Largely because of protease inhibitors, more HIV-infected Americans are living longer. "The most important aspect of the Magic Johnson story," says Daar, "is that he is not an anomaly." Ten years ago about 40,000 Americans per year were dying of AIDS. That number is now about 15,000.
The bad news is that about 40,000 people a year in the U.S. contract the disease, a rate that has stayed fairly constant for 10 years. With all those new cases, the disease will keep spreading, or at least never abate, no matter how large the long-term nonprogressor population gets. "People think AIDS is over, and that feeling is as prevalent in the gay community as anywhere," says Phil Meyer, a 45-year-old HIV-positive social worker who works for AIDS causes in and around Los Angeles. "There's a feeling that Well, it's not around or If I get it, I'm not going to die from it. People are looking better than ever. Look at Magic Johnson."
Over the years, dozens of Meyers's friends have died, including his longtime lover, and in an attempt to keep their memories alive, he never crosses their names out of his address book. "People think the news about HIV is good, but it's not good," says Meyer. "People are still dying. Lately I've seen a rash of people I've been acquainted with who were doing really well, good lab results, all that, and--boom--they crash and die."
Daar says a major factor in the new cases is that young gay men think that there's a cure. "Or they see all these healthy HIV people and think it's no big deal taking medicine a couple of times a day."
It's not only the gay community that has a short memory. While the news about Magic hit the NBA like a cyclone in 1991, it doesn't seem so fresh now, and at least one Western Conference forward, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes NBA players still engage in risky sexual behavior. "Guys are, like, It ain't gonna happen to me and Even if I get it, look at Magic." The NBA has made HIV prevention a major part of its education program, but even Stern concedes that education has its limits. "We have 18-year-old kids coming into the league wanting to know, 'Hey, this Magic Johnson guy? Did he ever play?'"
In this environment what is Magic's responsibility as an HIV-positive public figure? "I feel uncomfortable saying this, speaking about someone I don't know personally, but there's so much more he could be doing," says Meyer.
A thousand times over the last 10 years HIV-positive people, most of them gay males have stopped Magic--in airports, on the street, in fitness centers--and he says he always gives them time unless he's rushing to make a flight. He will not define himself, though, as the Former Basketball Player Who Has HIV. The Magic Johnson Foundation continues to be involved in HIV and AIDS causes, but it works as hard at sending underprivileged minorities to college. Some of his Starbucks have brochures about HIV, but it is easier for a customer to find out the price of a double latte than a statistic about AIDS. In 1992 Magic became a member of George Bush's National Commission on AIDS but resigned eight months later because he said that Administration wasn't doing enough to fight the disease. Since then, he has not signed on as a member of any major national AIDS or HIV organization.
Does he do enough? Who is qualified to add up that score? To turn Magic into purely, or even mainly, an HIV symbol seems limiting. Through dint of personality and achievement he has achieved that rare status of embraceable celebrity. There he is chatting up a white grandmother in Starbucks who tells him, "I've always thought you were such a nice young man." There he is slapping palms with a young black man outside Pauley Pavilion and saying, "Whassup, boy? Where are all da fellas?" There he is crashing a table at TGI Friday's and tickling the chin of a youngster who was thrust into his arms. "Hey, little man. You gonna be a basketball fan?" There he is joshing with an acquaintance who claimed, nicely but adamantly, that Magic had cheated in a bid whist game at actor-director Robert Townsend's house a few weeks earlier. "Oh, man, don't even try that. Three hours in a row I put it on you guys."
He talks business, he talks trash. He talks computer printouts, he talks jive. Traveling with Magic, an inveterate master of ceremonies, is like being at a mobile ceremonial coin toss: "Leroy, this is Robert. Robert, this is Amanda. Amanda's the best waitress I got. Amanda, this is Richard. Richard's the best real estate salesman in L.A. Richard, this is...." Who else has Magic's gift for connecting? Charles Barkley is, like Magic, an all-world mingler, but he's not as famous. Jordan is more famous, but he's not as comfortable in a crowd. Same goes for most movie stars and most politicians.
In private moments, when he takes the time to ponder his eventful journey, Magic will admit to feeling sad about having the virus, sad, too, that the circumstances by which he got it will be a part of his legacy. Those moments do not last long, though. "I look three to five years ahead," he says, "not 10 years behind."
He and Cookie believe he was chosen to get the disease "because God needed someone, and He picked me." That is a presumptuous notion, but when you consider what Magic has created with his businesses, the energy he puts into each day and how many people he touches, you at least begin to wonder. Magic, like thousands of others, was a dead man walking, and now he is very much alive. That is a blessing and something close to a miracle.
THE MAGIC TOUCH THE ULTIMATE FLOOR GENERAL ALSO HAS A VERY HOT HAND IN THE WORLD OF BUSINESS
A capsule look at Magic Johnson's $500 million empire.
--Shopping plazas in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
--50% ownership, with Loews (which looks to emerge from bankruptcy next year), of movie theaters in Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City. All rank among the top 100 theaters in the U.S. in gross sales.
--50% partnership in 26 Starbucks stores, with commitments to build 19 others. All 26 rank in the top 5% in sales in their regions. Magic is the only outsider to have a financial partnership with Starbucks. "Celebrities and other successful people frequently come to us looking to participate and leverage their status," says Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks Corp. "We always said no. But Magic had a vision, an idea, a genuine commitment to create a business in an underserved community that was both profitable and benevolent."
--50% partnership in a TGI Friday's restaurant in Los Angeles and another in Atlanta. There are also plans to open another 10 to 15 restaurants together within five years. The L.A. restaurant is one of the chain's top grossers.
--Magic Johnson Music, an R&B label, launched in conjunction with MCA.
--51% ownership--along with Janet Jackson and Gerald Busby, former chairman of Founders Bank--of Founders Bank of Commerce, which has assets of $300 million.
--Plans to build seven to 10 24-hour fitness facilities that will be called Magic Clubs. --J.M.
"Anyone who thinks Magic is a success in business because of his personality doesn't know business," says Buss.
"I quit," says Magic, "[because] I didn't want to ruin the game I had helped build back up."
"I got turned on when people said it was all over for me. I wanted to show them I wasn't going away."
"[Magic] is so optimistic that he doesn't see the glass half full--he doesn't even see the glass."