Magic 'Aspires' to offer channel for Black families

3/26/2013, 12:45 p.m.
As the crowd counted down, Earvin "Magic" Johnson pulled a large silver lever jutting from a box labeled "ASPiRE." With ...

Eventually, Aspire plans to create its own programming. For that, Johnson hopes to tap Black artists ranging from young up-and-comers to the likes of Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. But what about a certain world-class star already on the payroll? Will Johnson step in front of the Aspire cameras?

"I may do a show interviewing celebrities," he says. "Or a business show. We haven't planned it yet, but African-Americans want to know how to build wealth. They want to know how to start a business or grow one. Home ownership. Having good credit. I think I'm going to have to go on and teach them that sort of thing.'' The principal owner of Aspire is Magic Johnson Enterprises, with the 52-year-old Johnson as the network's chairman and CEO.

But Aspire is teamed with Atlanta-based GMC (formerly the Gospel Music Network), which, available in about 50 million homes, focuses on uplifting music and family entertainment. GMC is providing operational infrastructure - what Johnson dubs "the back of the house" - for Aspire, also based in Atlanta.

Johnson declines to say exactly what he's investing in Aspire as its principal owner, but acknowledges "it takes $100 [million] or $150 million just to turn the lights on and really get it going - and we're gonna be in that neighborhood."

Already, Johnson has landed five blue chip "charter brand partners": Coca-Cola Co., Chrysler, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., L'Oreal and Nationwide Insurance. He says his network is on track to be "almost break-even in a year."

Johnson sees Aspire as the logical next step in his burgeoning media empire, whose holdings include 20 radio stations, Vibe magazine and the Soul Train brand.

But an almost dizzying array of other investments includes real estate, restaurants, a prepaid debit card he soon will introduce and, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers, purchased in May for $2 billion by a group he fronted.

"I am so proud of the Dodgers,'' he exclaims and grins when that subject comes up. "I'm like a little kid. To know I own the Dodgers is even blowing me away."

In short, Johnson's career as an NBA legend and Hall of Famer is rivaled by his entrepreneurial efforts, which, along with his philanthropic and motivational work, largely cater to the Black community.

"I've been doing business almost as long as I've been playing basketball," he says. "I bought a radio station when I was 19 years old, when I first got drafted by the Lakers."

For now, despite his many business interests, he's giving Aspire top priority.

"When you're starting a business, you have to be more involved day-to-day," he says. "I'm a control freak. Even though I allow people to do their jobs, I want to know everything, and I HAVE to know everything: It's my brand, my name; everything is out there on the line."

Looking to Aspire's future, he points out how he always had two big dreams: to play in the NBA and be a businessman.

"I don't know why God blessed me with this life, but I'm glad he did, and I love it," Johnson sums up. "And I'm full steam ahead."