Lakers legend Magic Johnson, also a minority owner of the L.A. Dodgers and L.A. Sparks, spoke with media members after his appearance at the Bakersfield Business Conference on Saturday.
Here’s a selection of questions and answers from one of this area’s most beloved athletes:
Q: What do you think of Bakersfield?
A: I’ve been here three times now, and I’ve always had a great time, but always, the best part of Bakersfield is the people who live here. That’s what it’s all about. The people make this city go.
I’m excited to be here. To have that many people at a conference is amazing.
I don’t know of another city that would have seven, eight, 9,000 people on a Saturday — and it’s hot outside. But this conference is a well-run conference with a lot of dynamic speakers, so I want to give those responsible for putting it on a big thank you.
Q:What’s one thing you like to say to young people to chase after their dreams?
A: A lot of times, you get discouraged, and young people have to understand not to allow their friends or other people to really stop them from dreaming and dreaming big. I was around high school saying I wanted to play in the NBA, and everybody encouraged me. I knew I had to work hard, I knew I had to put the time in the gym, but people encouraged me.
That’s what I want young people to do. If you want to be a journalist, write for the paper or be on TV, whatever it is. Now you have to come up with a strategy, how you want to get there, whether that’s working for the school newspaper or whatever.
I wrote for The Viking, our (high) school newspaper, I covered all the sporting events and had a wonderful time.
But once I got to college, our basketball coach said the only thing you have time for is the books and basketball. I committed to him and the team. But go after your goals and dreams. I’m here living both of mine. I played in the NBA and now I’m a businessman. And those are the two dreams I had growing up.
Q: Do you think there is more intersection between sports and the real world now than when you played a generation ago?
A: No question about it. Look, you can put something out in real time now. Somebody just took a picture of me, and it’s already out there, right? Things can happen faster, quicker today. You also can have a voice. When I played, only the stars had a voice. Now, in sports, everybody got a voice. The last guy on the bench has a voice. Not just the head coach anymore, all the assistants have a voice because of social media. It’s changed a lot.
Tell us about your relationship with Larry Bird.
It was difficult in the beginning because we were fierce competitors. But now we’re really great friends. Larry Bird made me a better basketball player; I hope I made him a better basketball player. He made me a better man; I hope I made him a better man. I knew Larry Bird was shooting thousands of shots a day, so I had to shoot thousands of shots, because I wanted to keep up with Larry Bird.
We came in together and changed the game of basketball. We were able to bring interest back into the game of the NBA. The numbers were down, and when Larry showed up and played for the Celtics and I came here and played for the Lakers, that’s when basketball and the NBA took off.
Then we shot a commercial together at his house, and that’s what really brought us together. Before that, we really didn’t speak to each other, because we actually disliked each other. And so that commercial changed things for both of us and allowed us to respect each other as men. But we could still be competitors on the basketball court.
Now, we wrote a book together, we did a TV show on HBO, a documentary, so we’ve done a lot of things that if it hadn’t been for that friendship we probably wouldn’t have done. So I’m so proud to call Larry my friend, and I hope that we continue to do things together.
Q: What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs trying to get into the business world?
A: Number one, make sure that whatever your idea is, whatever you plan on creating as your business, make sure there’s business out there for you. And what I mean by that is make sure that customers will like your business and come into your doors and spend their money. You have to ask yourself the question, Why would they come and spend money with you?
Then, second, make sure you’ve done all your research and your homework.
I want all the data and all the information I need to give myself an advantage and a chance to be successful.
And then you’ve got to find out what your competitors are doing, why they’re successful or not.
And be passionate about what you do. You’re going to be working 24/7. When you start a business, that first year is very, very difficult. You’re going to go through some growing pains, but if you’re well-financed, you can fight through that.
Q: You have a vested interest (as minority owner) in the Los Angeles Sparks. Will you be traveling to Minnesota for the WNBA Finals this week?
A: I have family in town, so I’ll be watching the game from L.A. But I will say I was in Chicago when we played there. I’m so proud of the young ladies. Their goal was to get to the WNBA championship, and their next goal was to win it all, so their goal is right in front of them. Nneka (Ogwumike) winning the MVP of the league is outstanding. Jantel (Lavender) winning the … well, we call it Sixth Man of the Year, I guess I can still call it that in women’s basketball, she was outstanding. Candace Parker is still a superstar within our league. Our team is balanced, but we’re going up against the defending champions, and you know it’s going to be tough. We have to go in and take it, because they’re not going to give it to us. We’ll be back home Friday and Sunday, and so I’ll be at those games. I think we’re in a good position and have a great opportunity to win a championship.