Magic Johnson charmed the audience last Friday at TD Ameritrade Institutional’s annual conference in San Diego.
He first called on the attendees to “please help out as many professional athletes and entertainers” that they could, counseling them not to “spend more than you make.” He joked that he wished he could have attended “this conference when I started playing” professional basketball and encouraged the advisors in the audience to “invest in urban America,” much as Johnson has done in his post-basketball business career.
As the thousands of attendees ate lunch, Johnson told stories about his playing days and his ongoing successful business days. Roaming the stage and floor, he brought forward a number of individual listeners for a moment in the spotlight — asking their names and where they came from, and pausing for them to take selfies with Johnson or have a friend snap a photo.
One of the first advisors he summoned in this way came while Johnson was talking about his college days at Michigan State, and how as a sophomore in 1979 his Spartans faced an undefeated Larry Bird-led Indiana State Sycamores team in the national championship game. Johnson asked the advisor where he was from, and the advisor deadpanned in response, “Indiana.”
That led to multiple stories about Bird — pausing to remind his audience that in that 1979 game “we took down the Bird” — but also saying “your competitor can make you better; Larry Bird made me better” when Bird’s Boston Celtics beat Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in 1984. Spurred on by that loss, Johnson said he went back to the gym in the off-season and worked harder than he ever had, with the result that the Lakers beat the Celtics in six games in the 1985 NBA Finals.
One Johnson story: He said he was in the locker room at the 1998 NBA All-Star Game preparing for the 3-point shooting contest when Bird called for attention and said, “Which of you will be coming in second?” Then Bird went out and won the contest with his final shot, turning around while the ball was still in the air and walking away, knowing it would go in. “What person says that?” Johnson marveled.
As for his business career, Johnson said that when he was leaving basketball, he asked for and received a list of Lakers’ season ticketholders. He then started cold-calling the heavy hitters on that list, inviting them to lunch, where he picked their brains on how to be successful in the business world. Along with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, several other business and entertainment luminaries came to serve as Johnson’s mentors, including Peter Guber of Columbia Pictures.
In addition to picking other successful entrepreneurs’ brains, Johnson said he did plenty of research on his own to find business opportunities. So when he learned that the African-American and Hispanic-American communities each has more than $1 trillion in spending power, he decided to do his part “investing in urban America.”