Earvin “Magic” Johnson spoke about his experiences in business and basketball at the University of San Francisco last week as part of the Silk Speaker Series. Prior to event time, I eagerly waited outside of the War Memorial Gymnasium in the blistering hilltop wind for the opportunity to be in the same room as the legendary Magic Johnson. The audience, consisting of hundreds of USF students, community members, and Lakers fans clad in purple and gold, learned that Magic wants to be remembered for his humanitarian accomplishments rather than as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Magic spoke passionately about his life beyond the court, but he will always be a Laker at heart. He didn’t pass on an opportunity to speak about his historic rivalry with Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. According to Johnson, competition makes you better in sports, business, and life.
Aside from being a five-time NBA champion, three-time NBA MVP, twelve-time All-Star, and an Olympic gold medalist, Magic Johnson currently co-owns the Los Angeles Dodgers and is the President of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson leads an extraordinarily successful professional life, and his retirement from basketball in 1991 after his HIV diagnosis hardly slowed him down. Magic is “a big believer in adapt and adjust”, and he’ll be the last person to get discouraged in the face of challenges.
Starting early in his career, Johnson never let a negative mindset and attitude get in the way of his goals. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle during the 1980 NBA Finals, and Magic Johnson, a point guard, started at center in place of his injured teammate in game six of the series. Prior to the game, Johnson said to his distressed Lakers team “never fear, Magic is here”. Then he went on to score 42 points in the championship-clinching victory against the Philadelphia 76ers. Magic Johnson earned the 1980 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award as a rookie, and he quickly asserted himself as one of the most dominating and charismatic players in NBA history.
Johnson’s illustrious playing career is one of the most electrifying eras in professional sports, so his abrupt retirement in 1991 shocked the country. Without wasting any time, he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation in order to use his platform to educate the world about HIV. According to Rick Welts, the COO and President of the Golden State Warriors, “Magic faced the world and changed the conversation on HIV”.
Johnson’s leadership to change the dialogue on HIV from demonizing to open and inclusive extended his legacy to social advocacy in an instant. Magic’s foundation donates money to HIV organizations, and he helps diverse and economically challenged communities through educational and health support. He feels that it’s his responsibility to be the face of this disease in order to improve the lives of underserved minorities. It’s a true pleasure to witness somebody like Magic Johnson, who fans see as a real-life super hero, transform into one of the most impactful professional communicators of the past 25 years. The best communicators are those who bring about change like he did.
Some people might think a flashy NBA player like Magic Johnson would be too much of a hotshot to connect with people outside of his fame-making experiences. However, anyone who spends a little bit of time with him quickly learn that he’s a truly empathetic and kind person. Magic, who played alongside other legends such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Karl Malone on the 1992 Olympics Dream Team, displayed true care for the audience when he spoke for us. Johnson is the type of leader that won’t let a big ego get in the way of teamwork and success. He had every USF student stand during his closing remarks, and he told us to love and be passionate about what we do with our lives. According to Magic, we should all strive to “bring about change.”