Magic Johnson: 'People want to see America change'

ByEric Woodyard ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Earvin "Magic" Johnson is proud of this generation of NBA athletes. They're more versatile on the court and have used their platform to speak on issues of activism off the court.

And like many of the players, Johnson continues to campaign for the hiring of more Black coaches and executives in the pro game.

"We deserve it. Think about it. Lloyd [Pierce] just got fired. So that's another one of us, even though on an interim basis they've replaced him with Nate McMillan. But we're seeing that we should have more on the sidelines as head coaches," Johnson told ESPN. "We're proving we know what we're doing. But more than that, we want to have more on the executive level as well, because you see what happened in Toronto [with Masai Ujiri] and he led them to an NBA Finals. He's an African-American that knows what he's doing, but there's plenty others that can run teams, too.

"We just haven't been given the opportunity. So I want to see more as head coaches, more on the executive level, whether that's a general manager or a president of a team. And then also hopefully we'll find more even owning teams as well."

A successful entrepreneur and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Johnson is also advocating for more Black representation in the corporate world. He is joining the board of directors at Fanatics, a licensed sports merchandise partner for the NBA and several other pro sports leagues.

"It is important now -- today more than ever -- because of what is happening. We saw it firsthand with Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Like, we can keep going, and then we saw it with the protests," Johnson said. "People want to see America change. And I think that we're starting to see in corporate America, that they're trying to bring about change. And you have to have leaders like myself and others who can make sure that happens. So I've always had a role in making sure that my people got what they deserved and that we're represented at the table. And that will not change. It becomes more important today -- more than ever."

Johnson joins Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International, and Jerry Storch, founder and CEO of Storch Advisors, as Fanatics' independent board members. Johnson hopes his actions show the current generation that "they don't have to reinvent the wheel anymore."

"There's a blueprint, and I've had the blueprint -- so now they can just follow the blueprint. And I think you're seeing that with LeBron, Steph Curry, and you look at KD, Draymond, they're all businessmen," he said. "They're making great investments and they're owning different companies and different businesses. So we're starting to see them say, 'Not only can I excel on the court, but I can excel off the court.'"

Michael Rubin, executive chairman of Fanatics and co-owner of thePhiladelphia 76ers, says he wanted to bring in a renowned entrepreneur like Johnson.

"The way I think about building the company or a board is just get the best athletes around you," Rubin told ESPN. "So for me, we want the best, and he was that."

Johnson spent two years as theLos Angeles Lakers'president of basketball operations before abruptly stepping down in 2019, and he faced some criticism following his departure. He said that if there was an ideal fit, he wouldn't mind returning to a role directly in the NBA.

"I think that if the right opportunity came about, I would definitely look to do it because I love the game. I talk about it all the time on Twitter. I watch every game all the time every night, so I love it so much," Johnson said. "I love the NBA. And especially this year, I think I really fell in love with it even more so because I think the balance is there. We have so many incredible teams that can actually win, and I think we're seeing some of the other organizations try to improve and get better. So I'm happy with what I'm seeing."

In the meantime, the five-time champion continues to run Magic Johnson Enterprises, which he began in 1987, and tweeting his thoughts -- even if he's not the one actually typing. Johnson's head of communications handles that.

"It has to be the right situation," Johnson said. "I would never say I wouldn't come back, because I love the game that much."