know Magic," he says, "but they don't know Earvin."
He has always been
respectful of enterprise and has always had dreams that go beyond the NBA
Finals. It's partly a family thing. Magic's father, Earvin Sr., worked his
regular job at the Fisher Body plant in Lansing, Mich., and on weekends earned
additional money to support his family of 12 by running his own rubbish route.
Magic, instructed by this example, created his own franchise at the age of 10
when he began cutting lawns. With his own mower. Of course, Magic was inflamed
by the sport of basketball all this time, dreaming entire games in his head
before drifting off to sleep. But work—and he had lots of jobs—never interfered
One of his first
employers, Stan Martin, remembers that 15-year-old Magic would arrive at
Quality Dairy, where he was a stock boy, with a basketball under his arm.
Whether he had walked or ridden his bike, he would lave dribbled the entire
distance to work.
If possible, the
work was as important to Magic as the basketball. The life of his
employer—whether he was Marin, who eventually managed 30 stores, or Jim Dart,
who hired Magic to help on his Vernor's ginger-ale route—was more real and
fabulous to Magic than that of even Julius Erving, his basketball idol. After
all, Magic didn't know any superstars except those who rose from his
neighborhood to conduct what he calls "big business."
"Back home in
Lansing," Magic says, "there were these two successful businessmen—Joel
Ferguson and Gregory Baton. Everybody admired them. They had nice homes, drove
nice cars. They owned office buildings and had whole staffs of people. They
were our heroes."
When Magic was in
junior high and was still called Earvin, these heroes arranged to give him a
janitor's job in a building Ferguson owned. He would go in, usually on Friday
nights, and vacuum, empty the trash and clean the rest-rooms. Neither of these
moguls could have guessed what else went on in those empty offices. Or perhaps
only moguls could. "I'd sit back in one of those big chairs and put my feet
on the desk," Magic says, "and start giving orders to my staff. 'Do
this, do that.' " It was fantasy stuff, just like the basketball games he
would play in his head. He had no idea what he was telling his staff to do,
except that it involved the achievement of truly big business.
"I'm a big
dreamer," Magic says. Then: "For some reason, I'd still like to own an
It's no secret in
Los Angeles that Magic could afford his own office building. He makes $3.1
million a year from the Lakers on a contract that nobody, not even owner Jerry
Buss, could consider proper compensation. Nevertheless, Magic gave back more
than $100,000 so that the team could sneak under the salary cap and get another
shooting guard. In addition, Magic makes some money on the side-like about $9
million a year, minimum. Even he is surprised by how it all adds up. A Spanish
meat-packaging company called Campofrio asked him to come to Spain last summer
and make some appearances and do a few clinics. In and out. He leans forward
and says, "They gave me about a million for that!" He nearly owns
Barcelona, too. As a result, it's hard for him to complain about his Laker
salary, which is being challenged every day in the sports pages by the likes of
Cleveland's Hot Rod Williams and the Lakers' own Sam Perkins.
"The money I
make from the Lakers," Magic says, struggling for some standard of
comparison, "is—how can I say it—small. It's just small, that's what it
In other words, he
can afford any office building he wants. But how many people know that he would
rather have the Forum, or a multipurpose arena like it? People know Magic well
enough: He has five NBA championship rings and three MVP awards; he has
apparently outlasted the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird and still has enough left
over to take on the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan in the superstar competition.
But do they know that Earvin, the one who wears the long pants, has founded a
sports-apparel company that takes in $6.5 million a year, has become a general
partner of a soft drink distributorship that does $30 million a year in
business, has had talks with Buss about buying the Lakers someday and, in the
meantime, has become a philanthropic force?