During the good times, Johnson said he and his boss would hang out everywhere from dance clubs to football games, an unusual pairing of this giant slick-dressing athlete and an aging bushy-haired hipster.
"We would go to his house on Saturday morning, have breakfast and play pool, and then get on his bus to go stand on the sidelines of USC football games," Johnson recalled. "Then at night we would go to clubs and, man, he could really dance."
Then, as Johnson grew older, Buss gave him something even more important than basketball. He gave him the skills for life after basketball.
"He said, 'Earvin, let me teach you the business,'" Johnson recalled. "He brought me in, showed me the books, taught me how it all works, introduced me to people I would never have met, made me understand what it means to be in L.A."
After Johnson's retirement, Buss made the rare move of allowing someone to buy into his shares of the team, selling Magic about 4% for $10 million.
"When I played, he told me to save my money and he would make me a partner," Johnson said. "Everything Dr. Buss said he would do, he did."
The night when Johnson's Guggenheim group won the bidding for the Dodgers last year, one of his first calls was from Buss.
"He said, 'I don't mind losing you as a partner, because you just made a Magic move,'" Johnson recalled. "I started crying."
In recent years, Johnson returned Buss' inspiration by encouraging him to stop worrying so much about the team and start celebrating his success. Remember in 2007 when Buss was controversially vacationing in Italy while Kobe Bryant was melting down back home? It was Johnson who urged him to make that trip.
"I told him he needed to finally enjoy himself, and he finally did," said Johnson. "Before he went into the hospital, he said, 'Don't feel sorry for me, I've had a good run. . . . Who would have thought this guy from a little town in Wyoming could win an NBA championship?'"
Johnson is fearful of what happens to the Lakers next. There is talk of acrimony between the two Buss children who currently share the control of the team, business boss Jeanie Buss and basketball boss Jim Buss.
If the Buss family goes against its stated desire to keep the team, there is a possibility that the Guggenheim group could eventually buy the Lakers and install Johnson as team president. But Johnson said he sincerely hopes the team stays in the Buss family, and he has already cast his vote for the next chief executive.
"I hope Jeanie Buss takes over the team," Johnson said. "She was Dr. Buss' right-hand person. The two people always running with Dr. Buss were Jeanie and myself. She knows this team better than anyone. She should have all the power, she should take over the empire."
Johnson said he knows the love and respect upon which his mentor built this empire, and he hopes the children can agree that it is worth saving.
"I know what the man wanted, and I'm hoping the kids can make that happen," he said.
For now, Johnson is focused not on the uncertain future, but on his winding past, and the teacher who accompanied him on every crazy step.
"We created this incredible magic that lasted for all these years. . . . My heart is broken," Johnson said softly, haltingly, the magic momentarily gone.