Johnson won his first NBA title in his rookie year, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 4-games-to-2 series win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals.
Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated


Air Johnson gets around. Not even a Harlem Globetrotter  can trot a globe the way this guy can. “Let’s see,” Magic says. “I’ve been to Argentina twice, and Brazil, and to Japan three times … to South Korea twice. I went to Australia to play their national team in five games and then New Zealand from there. I took a team to Europe for 11 games. We played in 11 different countries that trip. “Not many places I’ve never been.”

I already know the answer, knowing him, but I go ahead and ask: Do you try to get away by yourself for some peace and privacy while on those trips?

“Oh, no,” he shoots back. “I want to see the historical landmarks, the different cultures, meet the people. I like to sightsee. I was in Spain a while ago and went to a soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona where 100,000 people were there. It was unbelievable to be a part of that. To see a whole country­ come to a complete stop for one game? That was just amazing. It was like the Super Bowl and more.
Austin Hargrave
“I like getting out there with the people. They see me and they say, ‘Ma-jeek! Ma-jeek!’ And: ‘You play the basket? You play the basket!’ Yes, I do — or, yes, I did. I played the baskets. And everybody you see over there has a jersey on. Here, we might have half a crowd with a jersey on at a game. Everybody wore one to the game there.”

I continue to maintain a conspiracy theory that there are actually 10 or 20 Magic Johnsons — cloned, manufactured, impersonators … whatever — who travel the world, popping up wherever you go. No one guy can be as many places as he seems to be. Perpetually in motion. Omnipresent. Nonstop, 24/7/365. Always has been. Always will be. The day he was born, Aug. 14, 1959, when the doctor gave the backside of Earvin Johnson Jr. a slap, I bet he found a slot for AAA bat­teries or a wind-up key.

Long retired from running and jumping for a living, Magic now has business interests galore. A foundation to run. Companies, charities, job fairs, health-care and HIV-awareness functions. Tech centers that ­provide home computers to needy kids. Scholarships for 150 more. A television network called Aspire that features family-friendly African-American programming. A preservation of the Soul Train brand, the one so familiar to guys and girls of generations ago.

As on a basketball court, Magic Johnson has a hand in practically everything. You’re a passenger on American Airlines today? OK, I can reasonably assure you that he is not in the cockpit. He won’t be coming down the aisle with your beverage cart. (Well, probably not.) But a company Magic controls does furnish the food for the Admirals Club lounges in major airports.

“We go way back,” he says. “My relationship with American dates all the way to when I was doing my ‘Midsummer Night’s Magic’ basketball benefits for scholarships to the United ­Negro College Fund, which was so close to my heart. They were my first sponsor.”