Former NBA star Magic Johnson was the keynote speaker before an audience of thousands of CSUF students, alumni and guests at the Titan Gym on March 4. The event was sponsored in part by the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics and Business Inter-Club Council.
“Always remember, believe in yourself, your dreams and your goal,” NBA star and entrepreneur Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson told a crowd of CSUF students, alumni and guests at the Titan Gym on the evening of March 4, 2015. Johnson told the audience about his basketball career and entrepreneurial success and offered inspiration to the next generation of business leaders. “If you do right, if you have a great reputation, if you are a man or woman of your word, if you will be there on time, it will happen to you too,” he said.
Looking Back on a World-Class NBA Career
Johnson recounted that he was born into a low-income family in Lansing, Mich., the son of a General Motors assembly worker. After playing basketball at Lansing’s Everett High School, Johnson was on the Michigan State University basketball team. “My goal and dream was to win the NCAA title,” he recalls. In 1979, he achieved his goal by leading his team to the NCAA Final Four victory in the most widely watched game in NCAA history.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers later that year, Johnson was point guard for the franchise for 12 years. During his professional career, he contributed to his team’s nine NBA Finals appearances, won three NBA MVP awards and appeared in the NBA All-Star game 12 times.
Johnson recalls that his greatest professional moment was during the NBA finals of his rookie season. With Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out due to a sprained ankle, Johnson led his team to victory in game six of the best-of-seven series, becoming the first and only rookie to win MVP in the finals. “The sign of a great player is making your teammates better,” he said.
Since his retirement from basketball, Johnson has been active in business and as a philanthropist benefiting minority communities in urban America. Johnson discussed his enterprises, including Magic Johnson Theatres, bringing low-cost recreation to impoverished inner cities; a partnership with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to bring the popular coffeehouse chain to urban neighborhoods; Sodexo-Magic, a food service company servicing corporate and institutional customers; and co-ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “You have to always have your business going at the right time; you have to have everything in place,” he said. “You have to have the right people working inside your business.”
Johnson’s career was cut short on Nov. 7, 1991, when he announced his retirement due to infection with HIV, which at the time was considered a terminal illness. Johnson did play on the victorious U.S. basketball “Dream Team” in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and briefly returned to the Lakers for the 1995-1996 season.
Magic’s Advice to Students
Johnson believes his philanthropic efforts are part of his entrepreneurial success. “At the same time you do well, you can also do good,” he said. His charitable organization, the Magic Johnson Foundation, offers scholarships to low-income students, operates technology centers and hosts job and health fairs.
To current college students, Johnson exhorted against discouragement in post-graduation employment. “Don’t get caught up in being disappointed if you don’t get the job you want right out of college,” he said. “A boss will always see a person that is working hard and has the right attitude, the right mindset.
Johnson concluded the evening by taking questions from the audience. Asked to name his greatest inspirations, Johnson named his father, Earvin Magic Sr., as his greatest personal inspiration; Oscar Robertson as his greatest basketball inspiration; and the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss as his greatest professional inspiration.
Business Madness Week 2015
Johnson’s visit was part of the annual Business Madness Week, which included résumé and interview workshops, a business pageant, a business career expo sponsored by the university’s Career Center and a six-hour dance marathon benefiting the CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange. The visit was sponsored by numerous on-campus clubs and organizations, including Associated Students Inc. (ASI), the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, Housing and Residence Life, Titan Athletics and Mihaylo’s Business Inter-Club Council.