In downtown Phoenix on Thursday afternoon, hundreds of local business leaders descended on Chase Field, as they always do this time of year. The occasion was the send-off luncheon for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, an event organized a year ago by Chris Paul and Devin Booker. If there was a way to top this duo, the Thunderbirds – the tournament organizers – did it on Thursday, when Magic Johnson spoke on behalf of the assembled crowd.
Johnson was interviewed by ESPN personality and longtime Pardon the Interruption host Michael Wilbon. Before starting, Johnson made a brief play in front of the home crowd.
“I have to quickly thank the Diamondbacks for the season they had – congratulate them,” Johnson said. “They beat my Dodgers, but also went all the way to the World Series. We should be cheering for this cause, this is your team. What a race.
Johnson’s many sporting adventures were a repeated topic of conversation. Beyond his involvement in the Dodgers, he is co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, Los Angeles FC of the MLS and, since this summer, the Washington Commanders of the NFL.
Johnson, however, wanted to emphasize why he was on stage Thursday.
The “why” of Magic Johnson
“My whole mission in life is to continue to make a difference,” Johnson said.
At the Phoenix Open, he sees a group with similar ambition. During last year’s tournament, the Thunderbirds raised $14.5 million for Arizona charities.
“That’s who I am,” Johnson said. “I want to continue to help people, especially in urban America. Those who are poor in America’s inner cities. The scholarships we already do, the job fairs, the health fairs, you name it. And I think for me that’s the most important thing. How can I improve communities, like you all do.
According to Johnson, this has been a focus of his since he was a rookie with the Lakers, when he met local business leaders in Los Angeles who helped shape his outlook beyond basketball -ball. Since retiring nearly three decades ago, Johnson has turned to Magic Johnson Enterprises, his investment company.
Still, basketball remains a central part of Johnson’s life. On Thursday, Wilbon asked Johnson about the modern NBA, in the context of Tom Brady’s recent comments criticizing the state of the NFL.
“You have guys like Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and (Devin) Booker who can really shoot from the 3-point line. So the game is different in that regard,” Johnson said. “But it’s still a good match. So, do the older guys like the way the game is played today? Of course not. We will have a different opinion because of the style we had to play and endure compared to what they are doing today. But I like basketball.
What Magic likes about the direction the game is taking
Johnson highlighted two changes in recent years: the growth of women’s soccer and the arrival of international players in the NBA.
“The (women’s) varsity game is outstanding right now,” Johnson said. “You look at women’s college basketball today and it’s incredible. So I probably watch women’s college basketball as much as I watch men’s college basketball. But the game is growing. What I like about today’s game is that international players have made it a global game and we have big international stars.
Johnson also discussed his involvement in the Commanders. Johnson is part of an ownership group led by Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris. The group purchased the team in July for more than $6 billion, the highest price ever paid for a North American professional sports team.
“We have to build it,” Johnson said. “This is a three, four or five year plan. We are not going to win overnight and we knew that. We knew what we were getting into when we purchased the team. So we just need to build it and build it the right way. Just like the Dodgers. When we took over the Dodgers it was a similar situation and we had to expand the farm system. We achieved that and then transformed the team on the field into a winning team. But it takes time. This doesn’t happen overnight. »
There was one sport conspicuously absent from Wilbon and Johnson’s conversation: golf. Although Johnson said he was a fan of the game, he never picked it up himself. On Thursday, he joked about why.
“We were on vacation in Hawaii,” Johnson said. “So I’m sitting next to my wife and the other couples, all the guys were carrying their golf gear, getting ready to go to the golf course. So all the guys leave, now I’m sitting next to four other women next to my wife. So they go to the golf course and my wife hits me and says, “You need to learn golf so you can go with the guys.”
“I said, ‘Okay. Now you know who I am. So if I take up golf, you know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to sit back and not try to be good and great at this. So that means I’m going to play golf seven days a week. So do you want me sitting in that lawn chair next to you or do you want me to be on that course every day and taking up your time? Make up your mind now, you have five minutes.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, you better stay here.'”