Without basketball, Magic Johnson shifts focus to community
Magic Johnson might actually miss the Los Angeles Lakers if he wasn’t always checking up on them.
Johnson quit as the team’s president of basketball operations at the end of the last season, leaving him out of a gym, but not out of the loop, as Los Angeles opened training camp.
“I’m working like I’m still there, anyway,” Johnson said, laughing. “I talk to them all the time. It’s crazy how I’m still with them without being there physically.”
Without the daily grind of management to restrain him, Johnson has spent the months without basketball traveling with his family, tending to his thriving business interests, and giving time to his church. He’s still advising — Johnson recently consulted with his bishop at West Angeles Church of God in Christ on the sale of some its properties. The deal will help the church build its Family Life Center for its nearly 20,000 weekly attendees. The West Angeles Church also paid the mortgage on its cathedral with the sale and was able to establish a financial reserve.
Johnson and his family have been members of the church led by Bishop Charles E. Blake for years.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment itself that an African-American pastor, a bishop can say to us as a community and congregation that, ‘we own our church.’ I think what you’ll see is that others will follow,” Johnson said. “From that sale, we’re able to build our family life center. So many community services will be established because of the family life center. When he asked me to help out, I was very willing to do that and to advise him and the other members that he chose to make sure they were making the right decisions and moves.”
Johnson’s wife, Cookie, joined the church about 20 years ago and the basketball Hall of Famer soon followed her and found a deeper connection with his faith. Blake and Johnson have teamed on various projects to help improve inner cities, launched programs designed to strengthen black families and spearheaded relief efforts in cities hit by hurricanes or other natural disasters.
“I wanted to get more involved with my church and working with Bishop Blake,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “When you think about his spiritual vision and plan, as well as what he had in mind in terms of his business plan for the Crenshaw corridor, it’s in line with what I’ve been doing in my business. I share his vision and want to just work with him and for him to see how we can improve the community.”
Johnson recently toured a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, that boasts a greenhouse designed to boost wellness initiatives.
“It’s really amazing what the hospital is doing for the community,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’m all about. I’ve been around the country doing the same thing and that’s what God has called me to do. I just want to go out and bless other people.”
He stunned the Lakers when he abruptly quit in April, not even telling owner Jeanie Buss or general manager Rob Pelinka before he announced his decision to reporters at the regular-season finale. Johnson, who had been investigated four times by the NBA for tampering, fought off tears as he explained his decision was made in part because he wanted “to go back to having fun.”
“I’m going to be there every game,” Johnson said. “I’m not a guy who goes backward in terms of saying, ‘yeah, I miss it.’ I love the Lakers. I miss the interaction with Jeanie every day. I miss being at the practices.”
But without his break from the NBA, Johnson said he wouldn’t be able to spend weeks in Europe with his wife to celebrate both of their 60th birthdays. He also has ownership stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles FC and attended a baseball playoff game on Thursday.
“I’m still a Laker,” he said. “I’ll always be a Laker. I’ll always help the Lakers. I’m pulling for us to win the championship this year. But when I stepped down, it allowed me to do so much more that I wanted to do. The Lakers are in great hands.”
The Lakers had missed the postseason in each of their three springs since Johnson and Pelinka took over, and not even the addition of LeBron James last year could end the playoff drought. But the addition of Anthony Davis has made the Lakers a contender to win the Western Conference.
He’ll keep an eye on the Lakers — all while making the commitment to church and community. Included in the sale was the caveat that bars, cannabis businesses, strip clubs and other nuisance business were banned from being built on the property.
“I brought Starbucks there on Crenshaw so there was a place where people could meet other people,” Johnson said. “But what the church was able to do was 100 times even bigger than bringing Starbucks there.”