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Magic Johnson built business empire after court glories ended

March 28, 2012|By Roger Vincent
  • The former Magic Johnson Theaters in South Los Angeles, now Rave Cinemas, helped put Magic Johnson on the map among business professionals.
The former Magic Johnson Theaters in South Los Angeles, now Rave Cinemas,… (Los Angeles Times )

Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s purchase of part ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers is the latest step in one of the most successful post-game careers of any professional athlete.

The former Los Angeles Lakers guard has carved out a role as a liaison between big-money investors and the residents of urban neighborhoods who might become their customers in a variety of businesses including theaters, restaurants, stores and apartments.

“He is an extraordinary businessman who has done a great job of executing his strategies,” said Ken Lombard, former president of the Johnson Development Corp. and a key mentor to Johnson in his transition from basketball to business.

Johnson’s strategy has included immersing himself in the minutia of real estate development and other business issues while linking up with top players in various industries. It was his Dodgers partner Peter Guber, then chairman of Sony, who green-lighted the development of Magic Johnson Theaters at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in the mid-1990s, said Lombard, who is himself an experienced real estate developer.

The shining success of the theaters in a South Los Angeles neighborhood overlooked by traditional investors led to a partnership with Howard Shultz, chairman of Starbucks, who arranged a special deal with Johnson to open Starbucks in urban neighborhoods. Johnson was Starbucks’ only franchise operator until the agreement expired in 2010.

“The theaters really put him on the map and Starbucks brought tremendous credibility to our overall assets,” said Lombard, who left Johnson Development to work for Starbucks. Lombard is now an executive at Capri Capital Partners, a real estate development firm.

Johnson also teamed up with Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, a Century City investment fund that manages about $18 billion for investors such as pension funds and university endowments. Together they have done a series of joint ventures investing hundreds of millions of dollars in densely populated, ethnically diverse communities around the United States.

When developments such as mixed retail and apartment complexes are proposed to public officials and neighborhood residents, Johnson helps smooth the way.

Johnson, who likes to be addressed as Earvin in the business world, “has got worldwide recognition and popularity,” Lombard said. “You have an individual who is very sincere, very authentic, who people in the city of Los Angeles trust.”

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