Magic Johnson Explains How His Storied Basketball Career Gave Him the Tools to Succeed in the Business World

Earvin “Magic” Johnson is best known for being one of the greatest basketball players in history. But these days, the sports legend says he still implements the lessons he gained from his 13-year NBA career in running his own business ventures.

As a basketball player, Johnson’s 13-year NBA career was mainly spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a part of five championship teams and was a 12-time All-Star and a nine-time member of the All-NBA First Team.

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“Its hard to become to number one, but it’s even harder to stay number one,” Johnson said during a Monday Keynote session at The National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York. “I learned that in sports.”

The NBA legend, business leader and philanthropist shared to the crowd of retail professionals how he has carried his competitive and driven mindset into the running of his current business ventures, which includes an ownership stake in several professional sports teams in the U.S., including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. His investment company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, also has a hand in restaurant franchises, movie theaters and real-estate.

“We’re always looking forward and making sure we can be here for a long time,” Johnson said, explaining how he looks to hire people with the same mindset, focus and dedication as him.

This sort of longevity — in business and sports — requires a vision. For Johnson, he believes three-years is a realistic period for people to set out to achieve some of their goals.

“Then you have to come up with a plan, a strategy and get some mentors.” Johnson acquired several of these mentors during his time with the Lakers. Wanting to learn more about the business world, Johnson asked for the contact information of several top CEOs who had season tickets to Lakers games. Then he asked them to go to lunch.

“I picked their brains,” he said. “Six of them became mentors.”

The next step, Johnson said, is to make sure these mentors keep you accountable and that you constantly evaluate your progress.

Johnson also discussed the importance of having a competitor, in sports as well as in business. In his basketball career, that competitor was Larry Bird, the former superstar of the Boston Celtics.

“I still hate him,” Johnson quipped. “Why do I say that? Because he’s so good.”

He added: “Larry Bird made me play my best basketball”

Finally, Johnson discussed his evolution of becoming a leader — and the importance of setting an example for his employees.

“Its not easy leading people,” Johnson said, describing, his morning routine that involves waking up at 4:30 a.m, going to the gym for two hours, and then working all day.” But this visible dedication, he said, is crucial for inspiring the rest of him team.

“They see the work that I put in,” Johnson said.

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