Photo Op with basketball icon and entrepreneur 'Magic' Johnson

Photo Op with basketball icon and entrepreneur 'Magic' Johnson

October 10, 2017 3:00 AM


It’s not often you get called out for a photo op by the basketball icon and entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson, so you make the most of it.

Magic liked my hat, asked me to join him while he was roaming around the crowd at the Global Gaming Expo where he addressed a full house as a keynote speaker.

Magic, the Hall of Fame athlete, has become Earvin, the highly successful marketing genius who is part owner of the LA Dodgers and now deeply vested in the basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers.

He’s conquered the AIDS virus, endeared himself to the business world and continues to have the Midas touch with every venture he chooses to deal with. And just his mere presence at a gaming expo has given American Gaming Association Chairman Geoff Freeman the ammo he has sorely lacked in his years of trying to push for legalizing sports betting on a national level.

If NBA commissioner Adam Silver broke the ice with his positive comments about the subject then Magic is living proof we are finally about to end the hypocrisy of it all. The U.S. Supreme Court has finally agreed to hear the issue later this year (Dec. 4) and its ruling figures to come down, hopefully, early in 2018. We think it will be a 3-2 yes vote, and if so New Jersey is ready to rock and roll.

Johnson of course is most concerned about the Lakers and their chances to return to when he was running Showtime on the basketball court.

“It is no longer the eye test that is the solution,” he said. “Analytics is playing a major role now.

“You have to have data. Analytics started heavy in baseball but it’s now in the NBA. We now can make better decisions on who to draft. Lonzo Ball was the most efficient basketball player last year. When it came to me to make the No. 2 selection in the draft it was an easy choice.

“Analytics tells us how much rest players need, how much they should run after the game, how much energy they’ve used. With that information we know how much to practice them,” Johnson continued. “What I want us to do is go to another level. If we can surpass our win totals from last season, this will be a successful season.

“We have created a lot of cap space for free agency next summer. Hopefully we can land a couple of free agents to go with our group of guys and then we can fight for some championships again.”

Freeman, who interviewed Johnson on stage, spoke of Las Vegas being more positively viewed by pro sports teams and how the climate has changed toward sports betting. Johnson agreed and his presence at G2E backed up his statements.

“Sports leagues would say we’re staying away from Las Vegas. Now it’s great for the fans, the NFL and NHL to have teams here,” he said. “The landscape is changing around Las Vegas. With the Lakers we have a great relationship with casinos and hotels in California like Morongo and Pechanga. Before, we had none. It was bad for our image.”

“The Lakers have a heavy fan base in Las Vegas and the MGM rolled out the red carpet for us,” Johnson added. “We had to change the fan experience when we took over the Dodgers. The last four years we put money into stadium. We took concessions to another level. Now we are No. 1 in attendance with over 3.7 million. No other team is close to that. We also have to have a good product. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball.”

In closing Johnson stressed he has always been a creature of habit and took that position into his business approach.

“Fans always want more and you give it to them,” he said. “If you over-deliver, people will come back. If I get everything I want, I am coming back to the same place. Millennials are different. They aren’t creatures of habit, they want to jump around. Because of that we invested in eSports. Video games and the whole market is exploding. I wrote a big check. eSports is the wave of the future.”

But Johnson doesn’t mind being “old school.”

“I love spending time in Vegas,” he said, “ I love being spoiled here.”