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Magic Johnson Shares Life Story To Packed Eisenhower Auditorium

Magic Johnson took selfies, signed jerseys, and even shined a pair of shoes on Tuesday night in the Eisenhower Auditorium. The former basketball star and Hall of Famer described his journey from the poor streets of Lansing, Mich., to success in the business world as the keynote speaker of Schreyer Honors College’s Shaping the Future Summit, themed “The Power of Money.”

After leading Michigan State to an NCAA Championship, Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. “This is when everything changed,” said Johnson, whose father worked in a factory and mother worked as a custodian. “I went from being very broke, eating pizza everyday, and now I finally had some money.”

When Johnson retired from the sport, after five NBA Championships and three Most Valuable Player awards, he jumped at the opportunity to make his basketball earnings sustainable. He pondered how he could make his basketball brand a corporate brand.

“I’m going to invest in Urban America,” he said he decided. “Why? Because I know that community, I’m from that community and I know I can make money in that community, as well as do good at the same time. I opened the door for other minorities to follow me because of the job that I’ve done.”

Johnson’s first business venture was a movie theatre in the outskirts of Los Angeles that catered to the local African American community. Within a few years, it was one of the 10 highest-grossing movie theaters in the country. He quickly moved to larger projects, approaching Seattle’s Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and asked to partner with him. Starbucks had previously been hesitant to join any parternerships, but Johnson’s business plan, which catered heavily towards minorities, convinced the CEO.

“I’m the only person outside of Starbucks to own Starbucks,” Johnson proudly exclaimed.

In the middle of his presentation, the entrepreneur invited one of the student event organizers, a business student who went by Paul, up to the stage.

“My reputation is everything,” Johnson told the excited student before explaining how he bought the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Six billionaires call me. They wanted me to partner with them. Now, Paul, if I don’t have a good reputation, if I hadn’t been a man of my word, those six billionaires would never call me.”

Just as Paul headed back to his seat, Johnson asked, “Where’s your phone at man? You gotta take a selfie!” Johnson, Paul, and Schreyer Honors College Dean Christian Brady posed together onstage for a quick snapshot.

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Photo: Christian Brady

As the presentation opened for questions, Johnson gave the students in the audience parting advice, particular for the university crowd.

“I grew up poor, but I didn’t have poor dreams. Take advantage of your education,” he urged. “If I didn’t take advantage of my education at Michigan State, there’s no way I would be standing here talking to you.”

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About the Author

Claire Marchon

Contributor for Onward State, from the San Fransisco, Bay Area. I am probably the biggest Simon & Garfunkel fan you've ever met; I might also be the only Simon & Garfunkel fan under 50 you've ever met. Either way I think it is very important you know I love Simon & Garfunkel.

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