Nov 21, 2012

Frank Girardot: Johnson works his Magic at Rose Bowl

There's something electric about Earvin Johnson Jr.

No scratch that.

There's something Magic about him, which made Magic Johnson's talk to 100 or so Pasadena residents gathered for lunch Monday at the Rose Bowl so enjoyable.

With everybody from AEG in Los Angeles to Ed Roski Jr. in Industry, to USC honks at the Coliseum promising new and better stadium experiences for football fans, it's important to note that the Rose Bowl's been doing it for nearly 100 years.

Even though its renovation project is several million in the hole (and the hole keeps getting deeper and larger), this is still the Rose Bowl - host of the Granddaddy of 'em All.

It's the one stadium on Earth that Knute Rockne and Notre Dame's Four Horsemen, O.J. Simpson, the Rolling Stones and Mia Hamm all have in common. Touchdown Jesus notwithstanding, the Rose Bowl says college football.

Magic weaves a great tale. He described his first meeting with then-Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke over lunch. Johnson wanted a hamburger. He also wanted more money than Larry Bird. He got neither.

He recalled his first game in the NBA, jumping into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's arms after a last-second, game-winning sky-hook and described his teammates, including Michael Cooper - "best defensive player ever" - and A.C. Green, who had too much processing in his “jheri curl” to catch a pass on the run.

Magic also described his transition to the corporate world, first buying into a Pepsi distributorship in Maryland.

From there it was Magic Johnson movie theaters, the Lakers, a share of Starbucks and now the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Now I play with guys who have shirts and ties on,” he said.

Johnson described his private life, noting he is on the run for 10 months of the year, pausing every July to cruise the Mediterranean with his children and his wife Cookie.

As for the Dodgers, he first explained to his wife he would have to write a check for $50 million before he actually committed to buying a share in the team. Johnson said he would be surprised if they made the playoffs this season, but don't count Dodger Blue out in 2013.

“We built this team for next season on,” he said.

As part owner of Sodexo, MagicJohnson has a stake in concessions sold at the Rose Bowl. Clearly the renovation project will benefit Johnson, a guy who has a - dare I say it? - magic touch when it comes to business.

He's keenly aware that the NFL - and a potential move to Los Angeles - will have an affect on his business - and the Rose Bowl's ability to pay off its debt. Which team? What stadium?

Johnson acknowledged the picture remains cloudy. He believes the Raiders, Rams and Chargers remain in the picture.

Despite the Los Angeles City Council's approval of its Environmental Impact Report, Johnson believes the questions surrounding AEG's ownership need to be resolved.

Whatever happens, the Rose Bowl - and its neighbors - need to be ready. It's not a question of if the NFL is coming anymore.

It's when.

Frank C. Girardot is the editor of the Pasadena Star-News. Follow him at twitter.com/frankgirardot or on facebook.com/crimesceneblog.

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