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Magic Johnson talks life, sports and scones in fifth Speaker Series

By Aaron Scholder
On October 18, 2011

In what was easily the most engaging of the five World Within Reach Speaker Series, basketball legend and entrepreneur Earvin "Magic" Johnson put on a show that had all the hallmarks of the political speakers that have graced the stage before him.

There were calls for action, pleas for students to strive to be their best and, of course, a thorough trashing of LeBron James. Alright, maybe Colin Powell didn't serve that up to the SEFCU Arena crowd when he was here, but he might have been better served having done so.

Johnson took to the stage to a standing ovation before quickly declaring that he was not an "on-the-stage speaker," going off the stage to speak on the arena floor and wander the aisles while he talked.

Throughout the speech, which lasted over an hour and was done without notes, Johnson solicited participation from the lucky group who sat closest to the stage.

The unscheduled change in the format caused a bit of confusion for the production, who could not find the proper lighting in the arena to illuminate Johnson as he walked around, thus rendering the giant video boards mostly useless.

The speech itself ranged from Johnson talking about his countless successes in the business world to stories from his basketball career about coach Pat Riley and career-long rival Larry Bird.

One of the highlights of the speech came when Johnson declared that James would never win a championship.

"There are always going to be guys who win championships in the NBA, except LeBron," Johnson said. "Everybody always says ‘who's better, Kobe or LeBron?' Are you kidding me? Kobe has five championships, LeBron zero. I love the young man though. I know he's going to be better in the fourth quarter this year."

Johnson also revealed a tidbit of business advice in relation to the 125 urban Starbucks locations he used to own around the country.

"Minorities don't like scones. We don't know what scones are," said Johnson, who replaced the pastry with pound cake in all his locations.

Johnson ended the formal part of his speech with an informal Q&A with members of the audience, soliciting questions from around the arena to the delight of the crowd.

Johnson's candor and loose demeanor made his speech the most vibrant of all of the speakers who have previously spoke, giving the crowd reason to stand up and applaud once it finished.

Before Johnson spoke, the ASP had a chance to sit down with him for an interview:

ASP: You've had a lot of accomplishments in your life, as you know. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Magic Johnson: I would say what I've done in urban America, the businesses that I've built and giving back to the community. I'd rather be known for that than actually for basketball. I've made a bigger impact on people's lives. The 150 students we have on scholarships and the thousands we've sent to college. The people we employ, over 40,000 - it's not a better feeling than to touch somebody's life, then to impact their life. Not a better feeling in the world.

ASP: What haven't you done yet that you still want to do?

MJ: I want to continue to grow my business, continue educating people about HIV and AIDS. It's never going to stop so you have to continue to get out there and raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, raise money to take care of people who are living with the disease. Continue to build my portfolio, when you talk about my business because every door I open allows another person to come behind me. And certainly continue to grow overseas because that is where the opportunity is.

ASP: Since the 90s and certainly since the 80s, HIV awareness nationally has grown tremendously. Are we where we need to be with that or do people still not quite get it?

MJ: I think the awareness level has been great. Are we where we need to be? We're never going to be where we need to be. It's hard to do that. But have we made great strides since I announced 20 years ago? Yes we have. Both awareness and medicine wise. There was one drug when I announced, now we got over 30. Can we do more? Of course. Through the administration in different states and local cities, as well as overseas too. We can always do more when it comes to HIV and AIDS. We'll continue to fight the fight, man. And it's never ending because somebody got diagnosed (with AIDS) today, as we're speaking right now.

ASP: Talking about the current situation in the NBA, you've been on both sides as a player and an owner. What do you think is going to happen with that whole situation, do you think there could be a season?

MJ: Well, I wish I could talk about it but since I'm an executive with the Lakers, I can't speak about it unfortunately. But you almost got me.

ASP: Are we ever going to see "The Magic Hour" come back?

MJ: That's a great question, but no. No more TV for me. I'm just going to do the games.

ASP: You've endorsed political figures in your time, are we ever going to see Magic Johnson run for public office?

MJ: They've been pushing me to run in Los Angeles for years. To run for mayor, to run for governor of the state. But no that's not what I do. What I do is really support those who I feel have a good agenda for the city of Los Angeles or the state of California or for the nation. I support a lot of senators and governors and mayors across the country because I have businesses in 24 states and 105 cities. When you have businesses all over the country, people want you to come in and support them because I employ a lot of people in their cities or in their state. But I'm good where I am. I enjoy politics in terms of just supporting the candidate and then holding him to what he promised the people. I think that I'm better in that situation then actually being the mayor. I'm a person who likes to do a lot of things. If I'm tied down I'm like a wild animal.

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