Magic Johnson at the General Session

© Oscar & Associates

Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson told REALTORS® that fierce competition can inspire the brightest business ideas.

Give Your Clients the ‘Magic’ Touch

November 11, 2019

You probably know Earvin “Magic” Johnson best from his days as a basketball phenom with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, locked in one of the most riveting sports rivalries of all time against Boston Celtics star Larry Bird. If you perceived the competition between the two NBA Hall of Famers to be bitter, you’d be right and wrong.

“I hate Larry Bird,” the hoops legend said jokingly a handful of times Saturday at the General Session during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Johnson was being tongue-in-cheek about the on-the-court war with Bird, but the truth is, the battle informed his business ventures after he retired from the game, he said.

If you didn’t know, Johnson has led a hugely successful career as an entrepreneur since playing basketball. Owner of Magic Johnson Enterprises, he opened a string of movie theaters nationally, became the only franchisee in Starbucks history, started an infrastructure fund, and currently co-owns professional sports teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has also invested heavily in inner-city housing and mixed-use developments in cities across the country, most notably in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood.

What does all this have to do with Bird? “Your competitor can make you better,” Johnson told REALTORS®, encouraging them to learn new skills from their rivals in their marketplace. “Larry Bird is so great that he made me better” on and off the court. The rivalry was a source of inspiration for Johnson, pushing him to do bigger and better things with his career and life, he added.

Johnson also spoke of his focus on developing minority communities, bringing Starbucks and other franchises to neighborhoods where they hadn’t had a presence before. “We like coffee, too,” he said of minorities, prompting a laugh from the audience.

He learned a valuable lesson as he started catering his businesses to minority clientele: You must intimately know your customers and deliver service that speaks to them. For example, Johnson said, while scones are a primary product in many Starbucks stores, he decided not to offer them at his inner city locations. “No one really knows what a scone is anyway,” he said. Instead, he opted for items such as pound cake and peach cobbler—more traditional fare in minority communities.

In asking an audience member her favorite musical artist—she said Garth Brooks—Johnson teasingly quipped: “I love Garth, but I can’t play him at my stores.” Brooks’ music doesn’t speak to his clientele, he said. Instead, he purposely chose music such as Earth, Wind & Fire, a classic band that has long been part of minority culture. These small details have the greatest impact on customers because it shows you’re attuned to their wants and needs.

“I know my customer,” Johnson said. “Every individual you’re selling to—you have to overdeliver to them because that’s what they’ve come to expect. When you do that, you gain brand ambassadors for life.”