The Magic Touch

Earvin Johnson has worked his wizardry on his urban movie theater chain. But will his mastery continue as he seeks to become the country's leading entertainment entrepreneur?

Earvin “Magic” Johnson personifies celebrity. He wears it with style and a casual ease, the way a lucky few can wear a finely tailored suit. Testament to this is that in Los Angeles, City of Angels and home to countless stars, Johnson is the star other celebrities flock to with cameras in hand.

In 13 unparalleled years in the National Basketball Association, Johnson rewrote the record books and dazzled fans with his no-look passes and gorgeous perimeter jump shots. He also led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships. Today, Johnson is eight years removed from the day he announced to a stunned world that his basketball career was over after he had contracted HIV.

Many thought that was the end. Instead, for Johnson, that was just the beginning. “People thought I was going to go away,” he says. “But I never planned on going anywhere.”

Rather, he took his game to a different arena, one where the obstacles are higher and the challenges greater. His new career began with a relatively modest partnership with Loews Cineplex Entertainment, formerly Sony Retail Entertainment. Together, they built movie theaters in urban neighborhoods across the country. Subsequent partnerships with Starbucks and T.G.I. Friday’s, while still in their infancy, have only solidified Johnson’s presence in corporate America and added credence to his goal to be taken seriously as an urban entrepreneur.

Johnson says his strategy was simple: craft a niche out of themes he knew well. “All of my businesses deal with people, customer service and entertainment because that’s what I’m good at,” he says. “Everything flows together from that, and all the companies help each other.”

Consider it the “Magic Johnson” brand. He wants to become as synonymous with business in the new millenium as he was with basketball in the ’80s. And he’s well on his way. So far, most projects (a short-lived late night talk show aside) have responded favorably to his magic touch.

But his metamorphosis hasn’t been without adjustments. Some of the questions that arose when he first made the transition to business hover to this day. Can an ex-jock really become a
corporate power player? Is he extending himself too far, too fast? Is Johnson really running the business himself?

Johnson responds, “Everyone looks at me and still sees basketball. But I run all my companies. People who don’t know me may not believe that. But if they come in here and want to do some business, they’ll find that out fast enough.”

For his part, Johnson is content to let those who would underestimate him continue doing so while he locks up his next megadeal and makes a fast break for the bank.

THE MAGIC HOUR
Sitting in his Beverly Hills office surrounded by pictures of family and a few odd mementos from his NBA days, Johnson looks much like a man who, since shedding the role of NBA ambassador and embracing that of entrepreneur, can do no wrong. Under the umbrella of Johnson Development Corp. (JDC), Johnson has built five separate companies-Magic Johnson Theatres, created with

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