Many athletes today see their legacy as reaching beyond the playing field, and envision themselves helping to build businesses and improve communities. Magic Johnson, who built a business empire after his N.B.A. ended, was an example of this mindset. playing career.
“It was just a natural for me to go back in the community that I grew up in to bring about change, to build businesses, to create jobs for people,” Johnson said during a recent telephone call. “What was missing right in the Black community was really quality product services and goods.”
Johnson mentioned LeBron James and Kevin Durant as examples of current players who continue his legacy of inspiring others on the court.
Johnson was an unofficial N.B.A. ambassador. Johnson was an ambassador for the majority of his adult life. He helped to bring the league into mainstream consciousness through his rivalry against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics during the 1980s. He also helped to spread the game internationally as a member the Dream Team at 1992’s Summer Olympics.
The N.B.A. has officially made this title official. As it celebrates its 75th year, Johnson, Clyde Drexler (dirk Nowitzki), Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson and Bob Pettit will represent different eras.
Johnson, who abruptly left his role as the president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019, will also return to ESPN this season as a commentator on “NBA Countdown.”
He spoke to The New York Times recently about the state and future of the game, the era that empowers players and the regret he holds over his tenure as Lakers owner.
This interview has been condensed for clarity and lightly edited.
Will the N.B.A. ever have true rivalries again? Are there any true rivalries between the N.B.A. and the Lakers, as they did in the 1980s when the Lakers were able to face the Celtics every single year?
I think you’re going to see the more the Knicks and Nets play, it can become one, right? Because Brooklyn is now a championship team. The Knicks are now a playoff team. As you’ll see, the Knicks are a playoff team. It’s important to be both good and kind at the same time. There’s got to be a real hate toward each other.
Dr. J was the first to see Philadelphia and Boston when we were there. [Julius Erving] and Larry Bird, Chicago against Detroit, Isiah Thomas, Bad Boys against Michael Jordan’s Bulls, there was a real dislike for each other. So I think we’re starting to create some of these rivalries. I don’t know if it ever gets to the level of the Lakers-Celtics, but at least if we get it to some type of rivalry, it’s going to be good.
A large part of your legacy is the work you’ve done off the court in low-income communities as a businessman. What have you learned about working in those communities, and what are some of the mistakes you’ve seen from large corporations trying to make the same inroads?
So, retail has made a mistake in thinking they couldn’t make money in the Black community. We proved it wrong with the Magic Johnson Theatres. With the Starbucks, we proved it wrong. That’s why you see big retailers going into urban America more now than ever, because they know they can get a return on investment.
They are eager to do good for our community. You can be successful and also do good. That is what I always tell people. When the whole George Floyd situation happened, in terms of he was murdered, you saw a lot of Fortune 500 companies — because young people were out there protesting. But it wasn’t just Blacks — it was also whites and other groups of people. That’s when everybody said: “That’s wrong. I have to do something. Let me invest in urban America.”
A lot of C.E.O.s called me and said: “Earvin, we want to do something. We quite don’t know what to do.” I said, “Well, No. 1) You could put money into small Black bank because the Paycheck Protection Program was not available to Latinos, small-business owners, Black small-business owners, or women business owner. If these banks had money, they could make loans to these entrepreneurs and those who want to purchase a home in the Black community. Now they got more cash to provide more loans, right?” So a lot of them did that. Then I said, “Hey, your board must reflect America, so you got to hire more people or bring more people on your board and also on the management and the C-suite level, you got to put more minorities on that level.”
Do you ever dream of running an N.B.A. franchise again?
It’s all about the right situation, so if the right situation comes I might think about it. It’s all about timing. It’s all about who that team is. I’m a Laker all day long, so I’m probably going to end up working with Jeanie Buss again, and I’m not laughing. That’s serious.
I was offered the opportunity to own one of those teams before, but I declined. I love the game. I know the game. I know players. I know agents. The great thing about me, I’m set up where I know what works. I know what a winning team looks like. So I know how to talk to the players — you can ask Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball and all those guys, because I’m happy to see them thriving and doing so well, and so just trying to help those guys reach their full potential. This was my role and you can see them succeeding. It was so satisfying to see this.
Is there something you would have done differently when you ran the Lakers?
No, I had a plan. We were well over the salary cap. I had a plan. That was what we did. I had to make difficult decisions. Julius was coming up. Larry Nance Jr. was coming up so we had to make difficult decisions that worked for them but also worked for the Lakers. So I couldn’t sign them to those extensions because I knew LeBron was coming up and Kawhi Leonard and all these guys, so I was trying to save enough of that cap space, so I could sign one of those superstars, because you have to have a superstar to win a championship. We did it right.
The only thing I probably would’ve did was probably talked to LeBron before I stepped down, because I felt that I owed him that, so that’s probably the only mistake I made was not talking to Jeanie and talking to LeBron before I actually did it. Yes, I would do it differently.
LeBron James arrived in Los Angeles late in his career. What can he do in order to become one of the most admired Lakers?
That’s the simple answer: Win. He’s got to win another one. He is loved by Laker fans. He’s already brought us one. He’s already got his jersey, it’ll be hanging up, but most of the guys who’ve been with the Lakers have won multiple championships. So, that’s all he has to do. Just win another one. Then it’s not just about the Lakers. It’s all about his legacy here, and it’s not just here — it’s in Hollywood. LeBron, he’s so amazing, not just as a basketball player, but he’s the biggest celebrity in a celebrity-driven town. You have to give him credit for that, too.
Source: NY Times