The Man Behind the Magic

This past week was truly a “magical” one for me. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the hall of fame basketball star, brilliant entrepreneur, and generous philanthropist joined my venture capital firm, Detroit Venture Partners, as our fourth partner. His extensive involvement will help Detroit rebound by creating jobs, urban renewal, and hope.

Spending the day with Earvin reveals something much more than his legendary stats and accomplishments, however. His rarified level of achievement is actually overshadowed by his warmth, humility, and passion. He doesn’t talk of money, power, and fame. No words of crushing the competition, self-enrichment, or glory. In the place of typical boastfulness that oozes from so many celebrities lies words of encouragement and purpose. Beneath the surface, I quickly discovered a whole new kind of magic.

His most important teachings are not mastering a jump shot or commanding a board room. The lessons we can all learn from Earvin relate to being a better human being. So I want to share my observations with you, in the hopes that we can all benefit from learning a little magic:

MAGIC TRICK #1: Make everyone feel special. Whether he’s talking to the President or the parking attendant, Earvin is totally engaged. He’s an incredible listener, makes you feel like you are the most important person in the world, and cares deeply about you. He doesn’t size someone up and consider how he could extract benefit. Instead, he looks into the eyes of the person, not their resume.

MAGIC TRICK #2: Develop boundless humility. Many celebrity athletes and business leaders overflow with ego and pretense. They travel with an entourage, drape themselves with bling, and anoint themselves king of every situation. Earvin is exactly the opposite. He celebrates the accomplishments of others over his own. He’s grateful for each opportunity and just wants to contribute. No entitlement thinking. No outrageous demands.

MAGIC TRICK #3: Focus on impact, not money. In the discussions leading up to our new partnership, the focus was always on making a difference. We talked about how we can create jobs, how we can help talented entrepreneurs win, and how we can rebuild our beloved city. Earvin keeps his eye on the real prize – driving positive change in the world. And from there, money follows as a byproduct. I’ve learned over the years that if you chase cash, you’ll seldom find it. Pursue greatness instead, and your earnings will rise in the process.

I’m certainly never going to win an NBA championship, but I grew as a person this week by hanging out with someone who transcends the world of athletics. His thoughtful approach to both business and life is an inspiration to everyone he touches. At 6’9″, he’s certainly tall. But his character, strength, and honor are what make my friend Earvin a giant.

And that’s the real magic.