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Magic's Kingdom

Laker star Magic Johnson owns L.A., and someday he plans to own a lot more.

This town is comically blasé about celebrity. There's just too much of it for people to take it seriously. The relatives from Ohio may go slack-jawed when Dick Van Patten settles into a booth next to them at Solley's, but a true Angeleno (defined as anybody with a working vocabulary gathered from the Los Angeles Times's “Calendar” section) is obliged to look away, suddenly fatigued, positively enervated, by the sheer boredom of life here. A true Angeleno might—if he can manage any sympathy at all for the pathetic gawkers from Ohio—muster the scorn to mention that he bumps into Jamie Farr at Von's from time to time or sees Frankie Avalon regularly at the Sagebrush Cantina. But just the thought of it usually sinks him into torpor.

How to explain it, except to say that this is a city where the Hollywood Reporter and Casting Callare sold right alongside Big Truck and Equipment Trader at convenience stores in even the remotest areas of Los Angeles. It's a company town, and the workaday industry is fame.

Ohio relative: “Let me get this straight. You saw Jamie Farr squeezing lettuce heads?”

True Angeleno: “Kids,” (keeping his head up, trying not to doze) “the things I could tell you.” (Sound asleep now.)

So here comes Earvin (Magic) Johnson walking into Le Dome, no Buckeye closer than Pasadena (an Ohioan would have better luck petitioning the Rose Bowl for 50-yard-line seats than trying for reservations at Le Dome), to meet Michael Ovitz, described around Hollywood as the most powerful man in the Western world. Ovitz, who heads Creative Artists Agency and thus assembles most of the talent you see at the neighborhood Cineplex, routinely dines with such clients as Paul Newman and Bill Murray without any more fuss than would attend an oil change at the local gas station. But, as we say, here comes Magic, and Le Dome's patrons, all true Angelenos, glance up and see six feet nine inches of maximum celebrity ambling their way. There is a time to be blasé (almost always) and a time to be slack-jawed (now!). They give him a standing ovation.

To the extent that anyone can own a layout like Los Angeles, Magic does. It's hard to say why this is his town, except that nobody else in this entertainment capital has sustained such purity of effort and enthusiasm for 11 years, not to mention a talent for public performance that has allowed Laker basketball to be celebrated as Showtime. He can do what he wants here, and for all his playful innocence, he is not unmindful of the opportunities this gives him. Perhaps you saw him last September on the televised MTV Awards, presenting Janet Jackson with a nice little trophy. You may have been at the Forum when rap star M.C.Hammer decided he needed a new posse and called Magic to the stage. Magic is everywhere, does everything.

If Magic wants to host a heavy-hitter golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades—done. (“Kids, don't embarrass me,” says the true Angeleno, “but that's Jimmy Garner and Bob Wagner on the veranda.”) His own charity basketball game—a sellout. (“The guy coaching? With the head shaped like a wedge of cheese? Arsenic.”) As for Janet Jackson, if Magic decides he would like to hear a little "Rhythm Nation," he promotes her concerts at the Forum. Sellouts again. A lot of guys would just go out and buy the album, but that's Magic, and this is Los Angeles.

One more thing: Not that this is the ultimate celebrity certification, but the man does have a sandwich named after him at the L.A. version of the Stage Deli. Some kind of triple-double.

If you're going to own a town, and you're 31 years old and full of life and your fiancèe is grudgingly permitting yet another extension on that marriage deadline, Los Angeles is probably the town to go for. The variety of experience available so overrides the city's inconveniences that operating elsewhere is almost unthinkable. During a hot spell when Los Angeles turned in a rare single-triple, Magic was asked if he would consider moving back to Michigan. He was dumbfounded. And own what? Detroit? It's entirely appropriate that Magic lives on a ridge with a 180-degree view of the Los Angeles basin. An admitted view freak, he likes to sit on his back porch to examine his turf. King of the hill, etc. His town.

But here's the thing: When Magic sits there alone, banging a Pepsi out of his poolside machine, he's actually looking way past the hills that contain all this celebrity and out into the far reaches of the nation. He has ideas that go beyond holding the notes on L.A. Are you surprised? Did you think that just because the man can make those no-peek passes with such ease—just because he's the athlete to the stars—he doesn't have ambition?

“People may know Magic,” he says, “but they don't know Earvin.”

December 3, 1990 Sports Illustrated Cover: Casual portrait of Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson (32) wearing suit and smoking cigar during photo shoot at home.
Los Angeles, CA 10/25/1990

He has always been respectful of enterprise and has always had dreams that go beyond the NBA Finals. It's partly a family thing. Magic's father, Earvin Sr., worked his regular job at the Fisher Body plant in Lansing, Mich., and on weekends earned additional money to support his family of 12 by running his own rubbish route. Magic, instructed by this example, created his own franchise at the age of 10 when he began cutting lawns. With his own mower. Of course, Magic was inflamed by the sport of basketball all this time, dreaming entire games in his head before drifting off to sleep. But work—and he had lots of jobs—never interfered with play.

One of his first employers, Stan Martin, remembers that 15-year-old Magic would arrive at Quality Dairy, where he was a stock boy, with a basketball under his arm. Whether he had walked or ridden his bike, he would lave dribbled the entire distance to work.

If possible, the work was as important to Magic as the basketball. The life of his employer—whether he was Marin, who eventually managed 30 stores, or Jim Dart, who hired Magic to help on his Vernor's ginger-ale route—was more real and fabulous to Magic than that of even Julius Erving, his basketball idol. After all, Magic didn't know any superstars except those who rose from his neighborhood to conduct what he calls “big business.”

“Back home in Lansing,” Magic says, “there were these two successful businessmen—Joel Ferguson and Gregory Baton. Everybody admired them. They had nice homes, drove nice cars. They owned office buildings and had whole staffs of people. They were our heroes.”

When Magic was in junior high and was still called Earvin, these heroes arranged to give him a janitor's job in a building Ferguson owned. He would go in, usually on Friday nights, and vacuum, empty the trash and clean the rest-rooms. Neither of these moguls could have guessed what else went on in those empty offices. Or perhaps only moguls could. “I'd sit back in one of those big chairs and put my feet on the desk,” Magic says, “and start giving orders to my staff. ‘Do this, do that.’” It was fantasy stuff, just like the basketball games he would play in his head. He had no idea what he was telling his staff to do, except that it involved the achievement of truly big business.

“I'm a big dreamer,” Magic says. Then: “For some reason, I'd still like to own an office building.”

It's no secret in Los Angeles that Magic could afford his own office building. He makes $3.1 million a year from the Lakers on a contract that nobody, not even owner Jerry Buss, could consider proper compensation. Nevertheless, Magic gave back more than $100,000 so that the team could sneak under the salary cap and get another shooting guard. In addition, Magic makes some money on the side—like about $9 million a year, minimum. Even he is surprised by how it all adds up. A Spanish meat-packaging company called Campofrio asked him to come to Spain last summer and make some appearances and do a few clinics. In and out. He leans forward and says, “They gave me about a million for that!” He nearly owns Barcelona, too. As a result, it's hard for him to complain about his Laker salary, which is being challenged every day in the sports pages by the likes of Cleveland's Hot Rod Williams and the Lakers' own Sam Perkins.

“The money I make from the Lakers,” Magic says, struggling for some standard of comparison, “is—how can I say it—small. It's just small, that's what it is.”

In other words, he can afford any office building he wants. But how many people know that he would rather have the Forum, or a multipurpose arena like it? People know Magic well enough: He has five NBA championship rings and three MVP awards; he has apparently outlasted the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird and still has enough leftover to take on the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan in the superstar competition. But do they know that Earvin, the one who wears the long pants, has founded a sports-apparel company that takes in $6.5 million a year, has become a general partner of a soft drink distributorship that does $30 million a year in business, has had talks with Buss about buying the Lakers someday and, in the meantime, has become a philanthropic force?

“I have goals,” he says. But where any other NBA player would rattle off point and assist totals, Magic delivers big-business numbers. “I want to be in that $100-$200 million range,” he says, “which is what you basically got to have.” Huh? For what? A house bigger than his 13,500-square-foot compound? A Forum starter kit?

“For a franchise,” he says. “And it doesn't have to be the Lakers, it doesn't even have to be an NBA team. I'm a sports fan. If baseball became available before basketball, I'd be right there. I want to do big business.”

Former Laker Earvin (Magic) Johnson poses at his desk in his office in Beverly Hills, CA in July, 2001.

Not many athletes have accomplished that kind of crossover, and none in the way that Magic envisions. But Magic has been quietly preparing for this over the last five years, methodically establishing contacts and support groups, adopting mentors, getting a kind of courtside M.B.A. All those Hollywood lawyers and movie producers who get their mugs on TV at Laker games? The guys who adopt these physical phenoms as celebrity pets? Magic has milked them for everything they know. How calculating is this guy? He conducts an executive basketball camp in Maui, $5,500 for each jaded tycoon with a basketball jones. The joke of it is, Magic ought to be paying them; as they gather with their hero after practice, they're unwittingly giving Magic a businessman's deluxe seminar, on their tab. “Oh, I learn a lot at those,” says Magic.

Joe Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Capitol-EMI Records, is one of those Forum floor-seat guys who has happily been exploited by Magic. An avid fan, he took Magic under his wing in 1987, inquired of his finances and—free of charge, says Smith—helped Magic restructure that 25-year, $25 million Laker contract that seemed so super in 1981. After Smith saw to it that Magic's paycheck was fattened, Buss reminded Smith that he could take away his floor seat anytime. “Of 128 seats out there,” Smith reminded Buss, “96 belong to lawyers. So if you want to deal with them instead....” Buss laughed, of course. Ever since, Smith has been another of those business heroes for Magic, which is sometimes as disconcerting to Smith as it is to Buss.

“We'll behaving dinner, and I'll look over at Magic and I've got to stop myself,” says Smith. “He's just drinking in everything. I say, ‘Wait a second, I didn't write the book on this thing.’”

Smith is amused by Magic's nearly naked ambitions. “He admires success,” Smith says. “I remember he came to my house, and I have a real impressive house I bought 19 years ago in Beverly Hills, and he was just knocked out, looking at everything in the house, even furniture. He's impressed by those kinds of things. In a good way. He aspires to them. We ran into each other coming off MGM flights and I told him, ‘Hey, you're flying MGM,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, but you own the airplane. I only fly on it.’ He wants to be an industrialist, a conglomerate.”

But if Magic does become a business force, it won't be entirely because of guys like Smith. He has some ideas of his own. Like Magic Johnson T's, an official licensee of the NBA. Last year, with help from his agent, Lon Rosen, Magic obtained an NBA license to market T-shirts. Then he got one from the NFL, and he expects to be marketing Major League Baseball and hockey shirts soon. His company has become one of the fastest-growing in NBA history; after one year it's the No. 7 company in NBA sports apparel.

Magic approves everything, from poses to colors, and goes over the numbers regularly. It's work, but to him it's much easier money than he makes playing basketball. “I'm surprised that no other athlete did it before me,” Magic says. “As hot as the NBA is, the way ratings are going up, there's a lot of money out there. The money some of my competitors make....” Those big eyes show dollar signs, just as in the cartoons.

The other good thing about this particular business is that if Jordan shirts outsell Magic shirts, the entrepreneur is still allowed his comfort. Magic wins either way.

But the T-shirt biz was an inbounds pass compared to the slam-dunk Pepsi deal Magic signed in June. No active athlete has ever approached an investment of this magnitude.“I thought the licensing deal was big,” Magic says. “Then when you hold it up to Pepsi, it's not quite as large. You have to sit back and laugh.”

This one was born at courtside with Joe Smith, who told Michael Ovitz, another Lakers fan, that he ought to get involved with Magic. “We can have some fun with this kid,” Smith said. Ovitz likes to watch basketball, Magic in particular. But the representation of athletes is, for him, kind of lightweight stuff. As a matter of fact, says Ovitz, Hollywood's top deal maker, “We don't represent athletes.”

Still, he agreed to meet Magic, who was awed. “It seemed to me,” Magic says, “that [Ovitz] was very reluctant. I got the feeling he did not want to take me on. But over four or five meetings, after he asked me questions dating back to my childhood, he finally said, ‘O.K., I'll take you on.’ Happy day!”

Ovitz insisted on an entirely nontraditional approach for Magic. “The architecture for the business career that we created,” says Ovitz, “was to put him in a position where he would be doing a lot fewer endorsements but developing a closer relationship in a continuing business. Many athletes have multiple-endorsement deals, but that's not what we were interested in.”

To distance Magic from athletic goods and services, Ovitz turned to bottling companies. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi were interested in Magic as a spokesman. But Magic was interested in more than endorsement money; he also wanted equity. It was a long courtship. Ovitz prepared Magic with little coaching clinics and simulations and showered him with business reading. There was eventually a series of meetings with each company, and who knows what prepared Magic best for them—Ovitz, or all that daydreaming in Joel Ferguson's office?

“As soon as I go into their office,” says Magic, “I'm reading the situation. Where's he sitting, where's he gonna make me sit? Are his feet on the desk? Is he gonna make me wait?”

Ovitz says Magic's instincts are as good in the corporate suite as on the basketball floor. He charmed both outfits. Smith says Magic can be in a room with 50 businessmen, “and they all think they've been touched.” Pepsi offered him the more attractive deal. Magic went into partnership with Earl Graves, a prominent black businessman, and became executive VP and one-third owner of a Pepsi distribution-and-sales company in Forestville, Md., just outside Washington,D.C. Magic's investment in the company was reported to be as high as $20 million, though Rosen says it was lower.

Magic's idol, Dr.J, made a similar deal with Coke in 1985, while he was still in the NBA, and he has run up his investment considerably, according to Magic. Magic fairly salivates at the prospect. But this is not just an investment—it's not like a limited partnership, or celebrity ownership. General manager and vice-president Gary Allanson was surprised and pleased to learn he had a hands-on owner to work for.

“I had no idea [Magic] had this high sense of urgency about getting things done,” says Allanson. Magic's visits to the plant and to customers involve long and unusual days. After taking a red-eye to Washington this summer, Magic—“He's Earvin around here, actually Mr. Johnson,” says Allanson—met with many of the 170 plant and administrative employees, beginning at 5:30 a.m.; went to dinner with some key customers; and then, at 8:15 p.m., slipped in a workout with the New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing at Georgetown University. The next day, starting at 5 a.m., Magic met with the plant's 16 drivers, took notes during his conversations with forklift operators, talked with all the account managers and then visited two universities to impress upon them the importance of having Pepsi machines in every dorm. “I've been with Pepsi for 13 years,” says Allanson, “and Earvin can run with anybody I've worked for. I mean, he's in Hawaii on vacation and I get a call from him about a vending proposal. He's for real.”

There are two questions that suggest themselves when an active athlete shells out millions of dollars to become executive VP in an industry of which his only knowledge comes from stacking ginger-ale cases in Lansing. Number one: Where does he get that kind of money? “I'm a big saver,” says Magic. O.K., never mind. Number two: Where does he get the time?

Listen to his schedule for a month during the off-season and you'll see that the money is easier to come by than the time. From June 24 to July 28, Magic played in Larry Bird's all-star game in Indianapolis, appeared at former Laker Michael Cooper's basketball camp in New Mexico, conducted four five-day camps (two for adults in Maui, two for kids in the L.A. area), had one full day of business meetings at his L.A. office, did one of his four free basketball clinics in the L.A. inner city, spent four days with Pepsi people in New York City and Washington, and appeared at the Chicago Super Show to promote Converse shoes and his own apparel.

Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson (#32) with assistant coach Pat Riley on sidelines during game vs San Antonio Spurs at The Forum.   Lakers win 136-116.  Inglewood, CA 11/20/1981.

And every day, he worked out. He had three days off. Overall, according to Rosen's estimate, Magic logged some 100,000 airline miles in that time. “He belongs to all the [frequent-flyer] programs,” says Rosen.

The rest of Magic's summer vacation was no less hectic. Here's part of a week in September: Magic's Golf Classic, a charity event at the Riviera Country Club, began one day at 10 a.m. with a brunch and ended with a late dinner and an awards ceremony; Magic followed it with a workout at UCLA. The next day, from 8 3 p.m., Magic filmed a commercial in Westwood for NBA Properties. The event was enlivened when an NBA man challenged Magic to play a game of H-O-R-S-E against another NBA Properties worker, Carol Blazejowski, the semifamous woman player.

It's possible that partisans of the two sides had money at stake. Blaze quickly got Magic in trouble at H-O, but then Magic began talking to himself, taking longer shots and finally, for the game-winner, delivering the ball while spinning off one foot. “That's b.s.,” muttered Blaze, bouncing the ball in disgust as Magic walked straight out of the gym with his fist held high, not even waiting for her shot.

The next day began with a series of pickup basketball games at UCLA, followed by a long magazine interview and then a red-eye to Washington, where Magic would almost immediately begin that two-day marathon with his employees and clients (and finish with that workout with Ewing). A week later, he added some mileage with the trip to Spain, made the first basket at what will be the 1992 Olympic basketball venue—“a dunk,” reports Rosen. “He didn't want to take any chances”—and worked out with a Spanish professional team for two hours.

But just as Magic takes, he gives. He has become a charitable force to be reckoned with. The folks who ponied up $1,000 apiece to play in his golf tournament in September contributed a total of $175,000 to one of Magic's favorite charities, the American Heart Association. Although the tournament doesn't require much more from him than an appearance, he appears with gusto. A non-golfer, he seats himself at the 14th tee and gathers every foursome around him for a picture. The businessmen and the odd celeb try to be as blasé as possible, but more than a few of them wring his hand with an awe that would make our Ohio cousins smile.

He also is active in the Boys Clubs of America; he has hosted dinners for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and for the City of Hope, a national medical research center in Duarte, Calif., that works on incurable diseases; he contributes money to Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss.; and he helps out a variety of charities by donating his used basketball shoes for auction and by playing in one-on-one hoops contests in which individuals pay an average of $8,000 to take him on. But his pride and joy is the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), an organization that disburses money to 41 black schools around the country, like Morehouse College in Atlanta and Fisk University in Nashville. Magic's work for the UNCF was born out of no special conviction beyond the organization's obvious worthiness. Magic just found himself going to a lot of fund-raising dinners, and with the same kind of inspiration that produced a T-shirt empire, he stopped himself and said, “Hey, why am I not having some kind of dinner?”

Magic had Rosen research the matter, and they settled on the UNCF. They called Vincent M. Bryson, the organization's Southern California development director, and proposed that Magic do some kind of fund-raiser, perhaps a dinner and a game.There was a meeting, and Bryson's principal memory of it is that he spent the time trying to remain calm and cool. The mountain, after all, had just come to him. Also, he recalls that he tried to talk Magic out of having a dinner, because local businessmen spend their lives—as many as 250 nights a year—going to fund-raising ceremonies such as the one Magic proposed. Magic, meanwhile, wondered if he could get enough good players to attract attention to the game.

For the first event, in 1986, Bryson was hoping to sell 600 dinner tickets at $125 each and maybe 10,000 tickets to the game at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion at prices of $20, $14.50 and $7.50. “We thought the crowd would look better in Pauley than in the [larger] Forum,” Bryson says. But Pauley sold out and scalpers were getting $100 a ticket, and more than 1,600 people wanted to attend yet another dinner.

This past summer the fifth annual Midsummer Night's Magic, looking just fine in the Forum, took in $1.5 million for the UNCF. So far, the event has produced more than $3 million. “It is by far the largest ongoing event in UNCF history,” says Bryson. And that doesn't take in its ripple effect. The Hawks' Dominique Wilkins docs a similar dinner and game for the UNCF in Atlanta. "A lot of NBA guys have stepped forward, and if you count that, the money starts to approach $4 million,” says Bryson. It contributes nicely to the organization's fund-raising goal, which for 1990 is $50 million.

Magic is involved from beginning to end in all details of the UNCF event, important and silly. Not only does he arrange a lot of corporate sponsorship, which essentially pays for the event's overhead, but he also pokes into the little things. When Bryson told him there would be a logistical change in this year's event—the pre-dinner reception would be moved to a lower floor—Magic grew perturbed and wanted to know how people would get from one floor to the next, what kinds of time and inconvenience were involved. “I had to tell him I walked it myself,” says Bryson.

But out of attention to detail comes money. Magic met a fan of his on the beach in Hawaii in 1986 and immediately turned her into a UNCF donor. She made a small contribution. Magic followed up with notes and has sent her a birthday card every year. In the return mail, the UNCF now gets an annual six-figure contribution. “He's a fund-raiser's dream,” says Bryson. “I deal with the heads of Arco, Security Pacific and Lockheed, and Magic has all their leadership qualities. He will make a very nice CEO someday.”


Despite all this, Magic is not always selfless, not entirely without vanity. A proposed one-on-one with Michael Jordan on cable TV, eventually nixed by the NBA last January, was only partly inspired by Magic's desire to throw $2 million or $3 million from the pay-per-view to charity; the two players would have made some Sugar Ray Leonard money as well. And Magic may have wanted to prove he could beat Jordan at his own game. “When we had it all but signed,” remembers Rosen, “I finally said, ‘Look, do you really think you can beat this guy? I mean, it's not too late [to back out].’” By then, Magic had developed some strategies. He was certain of victory.

Also, Magic doesn't mind terribly if he's seen in public. Not long after M.C. Hammer called him up onstage to dance behind him, Magic complained that Hammer didn't have to bring him up quite so prominently. It was, well, embarrassing. Yet, Joe Smith remembers seeing Magic at the following night's concert and hearing Magic say he had been onstage the night before. Smith asked if Magic wanted to be on again. “Well,” said Magic, “I'll be right downstairs.” Smith, resigned, went backstage to see Hammer, one of his artists, and reported to him, “Earvin wants to be on again.”

But when it came to the UNCF, Magic didn't want his picture on the cover of the game program. Bryson had to insist on it. “People's motivations for doing good work,” Bryson says, out of experience, “are sometimes suspect. People have all kinds of needs and sometimes expect the charity to meet those needs. But Magic has the most unselfish attitude I've ever seen. He is not interested in promoting himself.”

Anybody who has watched him play should not be surprised by that. For Magic, it's just a matter of passing to the open man. Why doesn't everybody do it? “I don't understand when these guys are not involved,' he says of his fellow athletes,“when they won't go speak or appear. Somebody helped them once. I know somebody helped me out.”

All kinds of people have helped Magic. In the fifth grade he and some friends complained to their teacher Greta Dart, that there was no organized basketball program for them. She conscripted her husband, Jim, who became their coach and, more important, a second father to Magic. Dart, who has graduated from the ginger-ale route to wine distribution—“It's classier,” he says—doesn't think of his involvement with the Hall of Famer-to-be in heroic terms. “It was a good time for my wife and me,” he says. “We were childless, and having Earvin around....” Magic dedicated his third MVP trophy to the Dart family.

Los Angeles Lakers #32 Earvin Magic Johnson dribbles basketball vs. San Antonio Spurs, 11/20/81, Inglewood, California.  Lakers win 136-116.

There were Ferguson and Eaton. Never mind that Ferguson, having made it big out of the neighborhood, returned to pave the Lansing school basketball court in time for Magic's blossoming (who knows on what tiny event greatness turns?). Ferguson fired Magic's imagination with his own ambitions. “He'd come home, we'd go in the office and close the door and play checkers,” Ferguson says of Magic. “But I have no doubt that osmosis was going on.” Ferguson owns 16 blocks of downtown Lansing—he owns office buildings.

There was Erving. At the end of Magic's sophomore year at Michigan State, when he was wondering whether to come out for the draft, he called Erving out of the blue, seeking advice. Erving, who might have kept it to a phone conversation, instead invited the kid to Philadelphia. It was during the NBA playoffs, when the Doc might have thought he had better things to do. When Magic speaks of Erving, it's clear he doesn't admire Erving as much for the growth of his Coke business as for his class.

There were Smith and Ovitz, patrons of an aspiring mogul. Magic, who does not seem to have any room in his house for mementos (you could find a can of Coke there easier than a trophy), knows their value to others. He has given championship rings to these two men.

And there's Buss, in whom many of Magic's dreams are crystallized. Buss is self-made, flamboyant, big business all the way. Owns the Lakers. Appears to have fun. As Buss spends more and more time in San Diego, and as he continues to inquire into other sports properties, it is increasingly likely that he will not be buried in gold and purple after all. There is speculation, in fact, that Magic is his heir apparent. Buss discounts that, saying only that he and Magic have talked in vague terms about team ownership. But Magic, who has said he will play only three more seasons (he is already hedging on this, thinking he could go more), says, “If both of us get out at the same time, he'd like me to buy it. If he doesn't have another franchise to buy, he won't get out. But if he does, I know I would have a shot.” Magic, in addition to telling Buss his intentions, has informed NBA commissioner David Stern that someday he expects to work in the league in a new capacity.

In the end, Magic may not need all that help. His huge respect for teamwork sometimes misleads us. It's not that he has more faith in his teammates than in himself; in times of team breakdown—last year's playoff series with the Suns, for example—he can single-handedly wrest control of a game. He may be the last great example of selfless play, but he also has enormous confidence in his own abilities and dreams.

Earlier this year, a contractor was installing a basketball hoop on the tennis court that adjoins Magic's hilltop house. Would Magic want the hoop on the ravine side or the street side? What did it matter, Magic wondered. In that case, the contractor said, the street side would be best because Magic wouldn't lose the ball in the canyon on missed shots.

“Put it on the ravine side,” Earvin said to the contractor. “Magic Johnson doesn't miss.”