Magic Johnson was known for ridiculous no-look passes, uncanny court awareness, and his five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. These days Earvin Johnson, owns movie theaters, Starbucks and 24 Hour Fitness franchises. Johnson has overcome adversity and turned what could have been a bad situation into one of the great American success stories. The man with the million-dollar smile is now worth more than $500 million after years of savvy investments and community involvement.

HIV and Retirement

Johnson had played 12 NBA seasons by 1991 and was already considered by many to be the greatest point guard of all time. His career was cut short the following season when his preseason physical found he was HIV-positive. Johnson would immediately retire from the game, after several NBA players, including close friend Isiah Thomas, expressed concerns about playing on the same court with him in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Thomas took it a step further when he accused Johnson of being homosexual. The two men finally reconciled in January, more than 20 years after the feud began.

Johnson would make a couple of short-lived comebacks to the NBA, only to retire permanently in 1996. Before retiring, Johnson purchased a 5 percent stake in the Lakers, which would be the first of his many investments.

Success Off The Court

Johnson said it was his father—who worked two jobs,one as a garbage collector)—who inspired him to always do things the right way. Still, it is doubtful he even knew he could pull off an act similar to Brian Ferdinand of Liquid Holdings or Brian Scudamore of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Ferdinand turned a small stock trading firm into a $100 million NASDAQ company; while Scudamore dropped out of college and turned $700 into a 100 franchise giant. Johnson started out by building a multiplex cinema in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. He bought other businesses and brought them to south-central L.A. and continued using this ideology to eventually establish Magic Johnson Enterprises. The company is said to be worth more than $700 million today.

The Cherry On Top

It would be very fitting and even good for the NBA if Lakers’ majority owner Jerry Buss somehow brokered a deal to sell the franchise to Johnson. Though this scenario appears unlikely, Johnson recently won a consolation prize. Johnson was part of a group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team from Frank McCourt for $2 billion in 2012. Johnson said he was thrilled with the acquisition and would try his best to convey his winning spirit from his NBA days to his new baseball franchise. The purchase takes him from the hallowed club of the successful entrepreneur to the pinnacle of American business.

By Isabella Jimenez

Isabella teaches ESL at the middle school and high school levels. She was the editor-in-chief of an online Spanish language magazine until she decided to go freelance.