Magic Johnson: Vows family, faith focus on new cable network aimed at blacks

NBA legend, business tycoon’s Aspire eyes niche for positive, wholesome TV

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But what about a certain world-class star already on the payroll? Will Earvin “MagicJohnson step in front of the Aspire cameras?

“I may do a show interviewing celebrities,” he said. “Or a business show. We haven’t planned it yet, but African-Americans want to know how to build wealth. They want to know how to start a business or grow one. Homeownership. Having good credit. I think I’m going to have to go on and teach them that sort of thing.”

The principal owner of Aspire is Magic Johnson Enterprises, with the 52-year-old Mr. Johnson as the network’s chairman and CEO.

But Aspire is teamed with Atlanta-based GMC (formerly the Gospel Music Network) which, available in about 50 million homes, focuses on uplifting music and family entertainment. GMC is providing operational infrastructure (what Mr. Johnson dubs “the back of the house”) for Aspire, also based in Atlanta.

Mr. Johnson declined to say exactly what he’s investing in Aspire as its principal owner but acknowledged that “it takes $100 [million] or $150 million just to turn the lights on and really get it going — and we’re gonna be in that neighborhood.”

Already, Mr. Johnson has landed five blue-chip “charter brand partners”: Coca-Cola Co., Chrysler, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., L’Oreal and Nationwide Insurance. He said his network is on track to “almost break even in a year.”

Mr. Johnson said he sees Aspire as the logical next step in his burgeoning media empire, whose holdings include 20 radio stations, Vibe magazine and the Soul Train brand.

But an almost dizzying array of other investments includes real estate, restaurants, a prepaid debit card he expects to introduce soon and, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers, purchased in May for $2 billion by a group he fronted.

“I am so proud of the Dodgers,” he said, grinning, when that subject came up. “I’m like a little kid! To know I own the Dodgers is even blowing me away!”

In short, Mr. Johnson’s career as an NBA legend and Hall of Famer is rivaled by his entrepreneurial efforts, which, along with his philanthropic and motivational work, largely cater to the black community.

“I’ve been doing business almost as long as I’ve been playing basketball,” he said. “I bought a radio station when I was 19 years old, when I first got drafted by the Lakers.”

For now, despite his many business interests, he’s giving Aspire top priority.

“When you’re starting a business, you have to be more involved day-to-day,” he said. “I’m a control freak. Even though I allow people to do their jobs, I want to know everything, and I have to know everything: It’s my brand, my name; everything is out there on the line.”

Looking to Aspire’s future, he pointed out that he always had two big dreams: to play in the NBA and be a businessman.

“I don’t know why God blessed me with this life, but I’m glad he did, and I love it,” Mr. Johnson summed up. “And I’m full steam ahead!”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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