By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]m
Whether its business or basketball, Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson has a special touch when motivating those in his presence. That presence transcends the sports world and the entertainment community. Johnson has been as influential as any business investor or developer throughout the D.M.V. over the last two decades and routinely visits quietly to areas where his investments are making an impact.
During a 30-minute appearance at Washington D.C.’s Ballou High School in Southeast, Johnson inspired a group of students and brought pride to alumni and other members of the steadily gentrifying community. Johnson’s message to the audience was a game plan for life that he used to become as big a success in business as he was during a legendary basketball career.
“If you have a dream then you have to live that dream every day,” Johnson told the audience. “You have to be focused and you can’t be around [those] who don’t share it because they will bring you down.”
Magic Johnson Enterprises teamed with the food service company Sodexo in 2006 to form Sodexo Magic which provides food service and facility management solutions for public and private sector companies around the world. They currently are responsible for the cafeteria management and hospitality services for D.C. Public Schools and have developed a menu that features healthy meal choices for students and staff. Ballou is one of the schools that has benefitted from his “Magic” touch, which has been another cog in the renaissance of the community surrounding the once troubled community.
“This is a momentous day in the history of Ballou High School,” Principal Willie Jackson said. “I’ve never met a billionaire before, but I sure was a fan of Magic the basketball player, but what he’s done since leaving the game is greater than anything on the court. He is an inspiration to all of us.”
Johnson was open and transparent when discussing how the constant doubting of his ability to succeed in basketball and business motivated him to overcome the obstacles on his path to greatness. The five time NBA champion, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to nine NBA Finals in 12 years, shared the stories of how those who doubted him fueled his burning desire to be successful.
“When they said I couldn’t play guard I picked up the ball, dribbled all day and put up shots in the gym for hours,” Johnson recalled. “My first date with Cookie [his wife] was her helping me in there so I knew she was the one for me.”
He also talked openly about how the diagnosis of a learning disability changed his life. Johnson struggled as a school student because of the challenges of his inability to read at grade level. The admonishing of a teacher who said he would never attend college, which would’ve derailed his NBA hopes, motivated him.
“It was just another challenge I had to overcome, and I’ve never run from them,” Johnson said.
When Johnson asked three students what they hoped to become professionally after college each wanted to become an entrepreneur. Even with his success as an athlete there were doubters, so his departing challenge was for them to be prepared through research and education.
“There were those who told me Black folks wouldn’t pay $3.00 for a cup of coffee,” Johnson quipped. “But I know my customers so the first thing I did was stop selling scones in my stores.”
Johnson wasn’t able to address his HIV announcement that prematurely ended his career as the event was abruptly halted.