Earvin “Magic” Johnson greeted every anxious hand, photo request and plea for an autograph with a firm shake and humble smile during a recent visit to Howard University.
“When I come back to D.C. and I come on the Howard University campus, it’s always a great experience for me,” the NBA Hall-of-Famer said. Hundreds of people were screaming his name, applauding and rushing his 6-foot-9 frame.
Johnson spoke with business students, hospital staff and the local community about his transformation from Los Angeles Lakers star to multi-millionaire entrepreneur and how he has lived with HIV for the past 22 years.
“There was a good reason for there to be lots of chaos,” said Evelyn Apugo, an administrative assistant at Howard University Hospital. “Say he didn’t come out in the community and share his story. Then a lot of people would still try to hide their statuses and not try to get the information they need to maintain healthy lives.”
“Because it’s not just about the money, it’s about maintaining your health and taking care of yourself and that’s what he’s about.”
At the height of a successful career in the NBA, the three-time MVP retired after being diagnosed in 1991 with HIV. He has since owned more than 125 Starbucks restaurants, which he sold back to Starbucks for a handsome profit, and shares in the Los Angeles Lakers, which he also sold back at a sizable return.
He currently owns movie theaters and radio stations in major cities from New York to Phoenix. He is the majority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him the first African-American majority owner of a Major League Baseball franchise.
Johnson also created a national contract food service with Sodexo USA called Sodexo-Magic in 2006. Two of those properties are at Howard, including a Magic Johnson Championship Sub Connection in the hospital cafeteria. His many business ventures employ more than 45,000 people, he said.
Johnson had lots to share with the 200 people crowded into the hospital auditorium.
He entertained the crowd with jokes and laughter between giving advice to those looking to become entrepreneurs.
“I had to find out what I wanted to do with the money I earned and saved,” Johnson said. “I wanted to invest my money so I wanted to make sure I started a business I could build and that was in demand.”
As he walked around the auditorium, he answered several questions about overcoming business obstacles and handling his HIV-positive status.
“People are only going to treat you how you treat yourself,” he said. “Twenty-two years for me and my walk hasn’t changed. I’m still walking, head up, happy guy. I had to educate people on the fly and at the same time I had to educate myself on the fly about this disease. I’m cool with my status, and I take my meds. That’s it.”
Following his time at Howard, Johnson was scheduled to visit President Barack Obama to discuss funding and government advocacy for HIV and AIDs.
“President Obama has done a wonderful job when it comes to addressing HIV and AIDS and bringing it to the forefront and providing funding for it as well,” Johnson said. “What we want from our great president is for him to look at the HIV and AIDs crisis and the programs and just give us funding so that we can care for people around the United States.”