- Magic Johnson spoke to Business Insider about partnering with Amazon on an initiative to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In the interview, Johnson also reflected at length on the NBA bubble, giving his take on the bubble’s execution and gameplay, and the legacy of LeBron James.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Adding to his history of entrepreneurial and philanthropic work, Earvin “Magic” Johnson partnered with Amazon earlier this month in promotion of the online retail giant’s new small business initiative, “Amazon Small Business.”
Johnson, the NBA Hall of Famer and founder and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, spoke to Business Insider in a phone interview this week about the Amazon partnership and his collected efforts to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since May, Johnson has pledged to donate a total of $325 million in loans to minority-owned small businesses through his life insurance company, EquiTrust. His partnership with Amazon involved the launch of a holiday “gift guide” earlier this month, which featured a curated list of products from small businesses.
Later in the interview, Johnson reflected at length on the 2019-2020 NBA season’s continuation in a bubble. Noting that the bubble resulted in zero positive coronavirus cases, Johnson commended its “sensational” execution and gameplay. He also discussed the plight of those in the bubble, echoing a recent Los Angeles Times report that shed light on the “strains” of the endeavor for players, and he gave his perspective on the legacy of LeBron James in the wake of James’ fourth championship win.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How did this partnership with Amazon come together?
Well, when you think about Amazon and you think about Magic Johnson Enterprises, we want the same type of success for the country, for small business owners. And we’re aligned with each other when it comes to helping those small businesses. Both of us have been doing it for a long time without each other. It was a no-brainer for us to come together and try to help these small, incredible businesses by not only driving customers to their product, but also driving new customers. Especially in a time like now, right before the holidays.
Amazon is such a big and incredible company. We’re a big little company, and, both of our brands, we always speak to the customer, and we speak to the community. So for us to come together, it was easy. We want to make a difference in these small business owners’ companies, and we want to make a difference in people’s lives that we already serve, whether it’s just Amazon by themselves and Magic Johnson Enterprises. But by coming together, we can send a loud, clear message that we really support small businesses.
You’re a longtime entrepreneur. How has your history on that front informed you of the plight of small businesses over time?
You have to remember, I was one of those guys, you know. I’ve been a small business owner for a long time. I’ve grown to be a big business owner, but I was once one of them. I understand what all of them are striving for, which is growth. Sustainability. How can they attract new customers. See, I’ve been through that, so I know it. Amazon understands that as well. Because the better that they do, it’s better for Amazon, and then the better that they do is better for me, especially in the Black and Brown community.
We need those small business owners to be successful so that they can keep their employees or they can add new employees. The more people who are working, the better for urban America and better for our country. So that’s why Amazon and I want these small business owners to win, because it’s important for the communities that they do business in.
Is there a product or company in this guide you’ve got here that holds a particular significance for you, or one that you would highlight?
Yeah, Uncle Bud’s topical pain relief. You know, when you get a little older, you need some help [laughs]. Me working out and everything, I partnered with Uncle Bud’s, and I use their products, especially that topical pain relief one because I still work out a lot. It helps me with my joints, especially my knees. After my workout recovery, it’s so important. So I would say that one.
I did want to get into the NBA bubble if we could.
Last we spoke, I got your take at the start of it, what you thought. I was wondering what you made of the execution of it in the end, how it all came together.
It was incredible. First, let’s thank commissioner Adam Silver for the job that he did in creating a safe and healthy environment in the bubble down in Orlando, Florida. It was the smartest move. Then you gotta thank Michelle Roberts and Chris Paul from the players’ side, as well as LeBron James, ’cause they all really partnered to make sure that it was going to be safe for the players, and also got the players to come to the bubble. So LeBron and Chris Paul using their voices was very important.
Thank Adam Silver for working with the doctors and scientists to put in the health protocols so that the players, as well as the team staff of every single team was going to be safe and healthy. And the testing was there each and every day. So you gotta give credit then to every single team, every single player, coaching staff, owner, because they adhered to the protocols and to the rules of the bubble. Because if they don’t adhere to it, then we’re going to get people who come down and would be positive. That didn’t happen because everybody bought into it, everybody remained disciplined. And then, let’s talk about the play on the court.
The play on the court was some of the best basketball I’ve seen. That bubble created new stars. Jamal Murray was sensational. Donovan Mitchell, when they had that incredible battle between the two of them, and they were both scoring 50 points. You know, that was amazing to see that. We saw Jason Tatum breakout on the Boston Celtics. Then we get to the NBA finals, and who do we see go from a star to a superstar? Jimmy Butler. Right? He was amazing. Tyler Herro, scored 37 points in the Eastern conference finals. He became the second rookie in terms of scoring that many points in the NBA playoffs, second only to some guy who played for the Lakers. I don’t know his name..
[Laughs]. At the tender age of 20. We both were 20. So when you think about that, and then you think about the play of Anthony Davis and LeBron James and the Lakers, it was just amazing. No positive cases. And they were there what, three or four months, five months, something like that. That was the amazing part of it, that they came through. Everything was just excellent. The fans, all of us who were at home, were thrilled to see live NBA basketball and then live playoff basketball, which produced some amazing memories for all of us.
So job well done, Adam Silver. Job well done, Michelle Robinson of the NBA players association. And job well done every single player. They should be commended. And look what happened: the MLB said, we gon’ copy the NBA. They went to their own bubble right now for the playoffs. So they kept the teams safe and healthy. And we’re starting to see the NFL has got to decide what they’re going to do now, right? They’re getting all these positive cases right now. So, NBA: Sensational job.
At the start of the Finals, Scottie Pippen said in an interview that he viewed the bubble game as “pickup basketball.” He had kind of a negative view on it. From what you’ve said, I gotta imagine you thought the gameplay was something else entirely.
Yeah, the play was amazing. Listen, guys had to sacrifice so much. First of all, they had to leave their families at home. Then they had to eat things that they normally was not accustomed to eating. They didn’t get to eat what they wanted. So all these things happened in that bubble. And so for them to come and play the way they played and the way they performed. Nah, man, it wasn’t pickup basketball. That was sensational basketball. You know, for the circumstances that they played under. For them to come ready to play each and every night. Hats off to every single team and every single player.
You know, you had an all-time stretch of excellence in the NBA. We’ve seen another stretch like that with LeBron here. How do you view LeBron’s longevity in relation to yours?
I view it as a man who, that’s why he’s where he is. In terms of winning now four championships and dominating basketball at a tender age of what, 35, I think it is. For him, to me, to be the best basketball player still in the world. Also, he should have been the MVP of the league during the season. He was MVP of the NBA Finals. I mean, his taking care of his body, his focus, his drive, his will, is off the charts. He’s a throwback. That’s why he’s in that G.O.A.T. conversation. And he can move forward. As he keeps winning, he will climb that ladder. There’s already talk about, you know, comparing him and Michael, and there will be serious talk if he wins another one. It’s going to be hard. Fans are really going to be pushing for him to be right up there with Michael.
Yeah. It’s very important that all the players use their platform for change, right? Social injustice. To stop racism. You know, we as black men don’t want to be in fear of our life every time we walk out our door, or every time we get pulled over by a police officer. And we’re not saying every police officer is a bad policeman, either. Don’t get me wrong. I think what we’re saying is there are some, and so we have to just get rid of those who are bad police officers. But other than that, we respect the police. We need them in our community to protect our community.
And I think that George Floyd getting killed and murdered just raised everybody’s eyeballs, not just the black community, but all communities. When you saw the protests, you saw that. You saw they was black and white standing side by side. It was the Brown community, Latinos standing side by side. There were Asian Americans standing side by side with black protesters. So it was everybody protesting at the same time. That’s what made it a beautiful scene. So, the players definitely led the charge and will continue to lead the charge, in terms of, they want people to go vote. And, you know, to bring about change, you got to get in the game, so you gotta vote. So, again, the players have done a wonderful job of using their platform, whether that was during the playoffs or during the bubble, but also on their social media as well.
But let me just end by saying, you know, small businesses are really responsible for, you think about how many people all the small businesses employ. Almost half of our country, right? Almost half of America is employed by small business owners. So that’s very, very important for what we’re talking about today, in terms of Amazon and me coming into this partnership. We need small businesses to stay alive. Especially right now, many of them are struggling during COVID.
And that’s why I made sure that through my company, EquiTrust, I pledged first $100 million and now another $225 million, so overall $325 million, to help minority-owned small businesses keep their doors open and keep their employees as well. So that’s why Amazon and I really want to help these small businesses with the customers they already have, and also try to create new customers. And we want to help them during this time, because the most important thing is to drive customers to them during this holiday season, which is very important. So, I wanted to leave you with that message.