WASHINGTON — With hundreds of people screaming his name, applauding and rushing his 6’9” frame, multi-millionaire entrepreneur and NBA Hall-of-Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson greeted every anxious hand, every request for a photo and plea for an autograph with a firm shake and humble smile Thursday as he visited Howard University Hospital.
“When I come back to D.C. and I come on the Howard University campus, it’s always a great experience for me,” Johnson said as he stood among a crowd of fans in the hospital cafeteria. “To see so many people here says that everyone is doing an excellent job here at the hospital.”
The former Los Angeles Lakers star came to speak with the Howard University School of Business students, hospital staff and the local community about his transformation from basketball to business and how he has lived with HIV for the past 22 years during a session in the hospital auditorium.
Johnson’s visit also included a tour of his Magic Johnson Championship Sub Connection restaurant located in the Howard University Hospital Cafeteria where a large crowd of hospital staff and students waited for him in a chaotic frenzy.
“There was a good reason for there to be lots of chaos though,” said Evelyn Apugo, a Howard University Hospital administrative assistant and Maryland native, as she waited with the rest of the throng in the cafeteria. “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 — three-time NBA MVP, five-time NBA Champion voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History — Johnson retired after being diagnosed in 1991 with HIV. Since then, Johnson has managed to develope an impressive resume as a businessman.
He has since owned over 125 Starbucks restaurants, which he sold back to Starbucks for a handsome profit, shares in the Los Angeles Lakers, which he also sold back at a sizeable return. He currently owns movie theaters and radio stations in major cities from New York to Phoenix and is the majority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, making him the first African-American majority owner of a major league baseball franchise.
He created a national contract food service with Sodexo USA called Sodexo-Magic in 2006, of which two of those properties are at Howard University. His many business ventures employ over 45,000 people, he said.
Johnson had lots to share with the over 200 students and staff members crowded into the hospital auditorium.
He entertained the crowd with jokes and laughter between giving advise 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 he talked about 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. “I think that 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 from people around the United States.”