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Magic circle: Ever the assist man, Lakers' Johnson glad to give something back



They are what life is all about, or at least as Earvin Johnson Jr. tells it. He wasn't too poor to have them, not before some Lansing, Mich., sportswriter christened him "Magic," and he's not too rich to have them now, after more world championships, Most Valuable Player awards and millions than you can count.

So, as he looked at a group of about 200 youngsters, sitting on the floor of the Washington Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club, listening raptly during a clinic here yesterday, Johnson couldn't help thinking of the full circle represented there.

F: "It's a lot of fun to see the looks on their faces and

the opportunity not only with basketball but life," said Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar. "You want them to know that you're a human being too, because they see you as not being human at times.

"I want them to know that, 'Hey, I was here, too. I grew up the same way you did and I made it through hard work and dedication and you can too.' "

If Johnson, who recently turned 32, is a bit more wistful than what the public has come to expect from the guy with the boyish grin, perhaps it's because he is approaching the end of one of the most storied careers in basketball history.

With that end comes an inevitable transition from Magic Johnson basketball legend to Earvin Johnson average guy, albeit average guy with a lot of money.

The financial empire can come crashing down, witness Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson's former teammate and the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

Abdul-Jabbar was sent reeling in the mid-1980s by a fire at his California home and a series of bad business investments and less than scrupulous advisers that left him nearly penniless.

"When you and I read the tragic stories of people who are not wisely guided, you see what has happened. Look at Kareem. That was an object lesson for everyone," said Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine and Johnson's partner in Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., a $60 million sales and distribution facility in Forestville.

Johnson -- who is co-sponsoring a charity all-star game at the Capital Centre tomorrow night at 8 to benefit the "I Have a Dream" Foundation, which helps underprivileged students attend college -- is determined not to be left wondering where the money went.

"My goals don't just end with basketball. A lot of players make that mistake and that's it. Once it's over, they haven't planned their life, they haven't made investments. They're just out there," said Johnson.

"The crowd quits cheering and they forget you real fast. Even when you're playing, they do that."

Toward that end, Johnson has made his business portfolio as diversified as his point guard moves, combining his endorsements, Pepsi distributorship, T-shirt manufacturing firm and Lakers salary into a huge nest egg, that certainly exceeds $10 million annually.

Johnson admits that mastering the world of high finance is not as simple to him as basketball, but is certainly as rewarding and perhaps more interesting.

"You have to research a lot and really do a lot of homework," said Johnson. "I'm having fun at it though. I'm working hard and I want to build something because I want people to look at me not just as a basketball player, but as a good businessman, an athlete who has succeeded outside of basketball."

Of course, the outcome of this year's NBA Finals notwithstanding, Johnson is still a pretty terrific basketball player, and he figures that in three more NBA seasons, and maybe a season in Europe, it will be time to call it a career.

Before that, though, he wants to play in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and is taking on the challenge of talking his friend, Michael Jordan, into joining him.

Jordan, citing the time that competing would take away from his golf game, only recently has said he would consider playing.

Johnson said yesterday that he believes that he'll be able to appeal to Jordan's sense of history and convince him to play.

"I understand his side of it. He loves to play golf and the demand on his time is tough," said Johnson. "But I'll tell him, 'You could do something that could be just truly great.'

"Everybody's waiting to see the USA team with the NBA players. This will be my last chance so if I have to take a pay cut and give it to him, I'm going to make him play one way or another, because this might be my first and only chance to play with him in a competitive nature and with the rest of the guys as well."



* KING'S COURT: Bernard King, Bullets; Michael Adams, Bullets; Scott Skiles, Orlando; Charles Barkley, Philadelphia; John Battle, Cleveland; Tim Hardaway, Golden State; Johnny Newman, Charlotte; Drazen Petrovic, New Jersey; Rony Seikaly, Miami; Dennis Scott, Orlando.

* MAGIC'S DREAMERS: Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers; Pervis Ellison, Bullets; Alex English, Dallas; Danny Ferry, Cleveland; Kendall Gill, Charlotte; Ron Harper, L.A. Clippers; Chris Mullin, Golden State; Ricky Pierce, Seattle; Pooh Richardson, Minnesota; Rumeal Robinson, Atlanta; Lionel Simmons, Sacramento.

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