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Transition Game: Magic Johnson

2/13/2004 - Los Angeles Lakers

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Magic Touch: Earvin Johnson

Though his playing days are over, Magic Johnson remains committed to
the sport that he loves. He is a vice president of the Lakers and serves as
an analyst of NBA games for Turner Broadcasting. He enjoys his work
with TNT thoroughly. "It's so much fun. We have a good group [Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Magic, and host Ernie Johnson]. It keeps me close
to the game."


But his horizons have expanded far beyond the game as
well, into the business world - transition he prepared for while he was
still playing.
"While the other guys were playing Nintendo games, I was reading
the business section of newspapers and the Wall Street Journal. I was also
able to meet people of influence because I was a player. I would invite 20
or 30 people who had great success in business, and pick up the tab for
those meetings, to find out how they had become so successful. I humbled
myself; I wasn't afraid to say 'I don't know.' It was a great learning
experience - kind of like a course in Business 101."

He also learned a lot playing basketball that he carried over into his
business ventures. "It takes the same commitment to excellence, the
same hard work, and the same focus on preparation. You have to know
whom you're dealing with - kind of like scouting the opposition in basketball.
And you've got to be ready to change some aspects of your game
plan to meet changing conditions. The same rules apply."

Magic—who was a great leader on the basketball court, setting the
tone for how his team played, stopping the action when an offensive play
wasn't carried out properly, and redirecting the action until the play was
done right—applies the same principles in his business practices: "A
leader is a leader no matter what. In my company, I'm the one who initiates
and solicits new business ideas, gets the plans in motion, represents
us at meetings with prospective clients, and stays on top of what we're
doing. My associates know that I'm up at 6:00 in the morning, that I get
my workout before starting the business day, and stay at it until late in
the evening when necessary. They see what I'm doing and know that I
expect the same effort from them. That's what a leader does."

In 1993, Johnson formed the Johnson Development Corporation,
whose stated business purpose is to foster local economic growth and financial
empowerment in long-neglected minority urban and suburban
neighborhoods. The corporation set out to accomplish those objectives
by developing entertainment complexes, coffeehouses, restaurants, and
retail centers in underdeveloped communities, thereby providing jobs
within those communities and using local minority contractors and service
vendors in the development processes.Johnson Development Corporation (JDC) comprises four entities:
Magic Johnson Theatres/Loews's Cineplex Entertainment, Magic Johnson's
T.G.I. Friday's/Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, Inc., Urban Coffee
Opportunities/Starbucks, and Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund.

Magic is the chairman and chief executive officer of the corporation, which establishes
50–50 partnerships with the most successful businesses in their marketing
categories. (He is ably assisted in these ventures by Kenneth Lombard, who
is president of the corporation.) JDC's first business venture, in partnership
with Paul Walter Properties, was a shopping plaza in West Las Vegas,
Nevada, in 1983.

In 1994, Magic Johnson Theatres opened a 12-screen
multiplex theater with Sony Entertainment at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw
Plaza, near Los Angeles. In 1997, the group partnered with Starbucks to
open a store in Los Angeles, and in 1998 joined with Carlson Restaurants
to open a T.G.I. Friday's in Atlanta, Georgia, then opened another store in
Los Angeles in 2000.

In 2001, the corporation acquired the 47-store Fatburger
Restaurant Chain, with plans to add another 100 stores over the next five years. In addition to the business ventures of JDC, Johnson also
heads up Magic Johnson Entertainment, Magic Johnson Productions, and
Magic Johnson Music.
But it's not all about making money. The Magic Johnson Foundation,
a separate, nonprofit organization is dedicated to improving the
health, education, and social needs of inner-city youth, and to supporting
related charitable organizations.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.