Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his wife Cookie were the featured speakers at the second annual Imagine 2017 student question-and-answer session on Monday night in the Student Activity Center at Lipscomb University.
The Johnsons fielded questions from university student government president Jackson Smith and junior senator and Spiritual Life Committee chair Gabby Cannone about their marriage, Magic’s HIV diagnosis in 1991 and the upcoming NCAA basketball championship game on Monday night. Magic especially emphasized the virtues of education to the crowd of students from Lipscomb University, Lipscomb Academy and various Nashville high schools.
“You gotta go to college,” Johnson said. “Education is gonna be the key for everybody’s life in here.”
After about ten minutes of questions, Johnson stepped off of the stage and addressed the audience from the floor with a passionate story from his childhood. In eighth grade, before earning the nickname “Magic,” Johnson could only read at a sixth-grade level.
“I had a reading problem,” Johnson said. “My teacher and counselor actually saved my life.” This counselor pushed Johnson to summer school for reading classes, even though he was a promising basketball prospect coming into his freshman year of high school.
“I was devastated, but I wanted to improve my reading because I knew it was going to be a key for me to be able to go to college.”
After intensive tutoring from the teachers who believed in him, Johnson was able to bring his reading level up to his current grade level, enabling him to eventually attend Michigan State University, where he “never missed a class” and won a national championship in 1979 over Indiana State University and Larry Bird.
Johnson is now considered one of the most successful NBA retirees due to his extensive post-retirement investments, philanthropy aimed at improving inner-city communities and partial ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Sparks. In February, he became president of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won five championships as a player.
“It is very cool to be smart,” Johnson said to close his remarks. “A lot of times we think, ‘oh, man,’ but it is good to educate yourself.”
The student event was designed to raise money for campus organizations such as Lipscomb Missions, the Intercultural Development Office, the LIFE program at the Tennessee Prison for Women and the Lipscomb Academy Good Samaritan Fund. Ticket sales raised $3,020 for the featured organizations.
Immediately after the student event, the Johnsons were featured at the Imagine 2017 donor event in Allen Arena, where just minutes before, a school-record $15 million donation to Lipscomb from former NBA owner George Shinn was announced by university president Randy Lowry.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb University