By ELIZABETH HAYES
Since retiring from pro basketball for good in 1996, Earvin "Magic" Johnson has gained national acclaim for his successful chain of inner-city cinemas and shopping centers.
But like an NBA team preparing for the playoffs, Johnson is about to take his game that is, his business career to a new level of intensity.
Johnson, who oversees about half a dozen companies from his offices in Beverly Hills, is launching major new ventures in development, sports and entertainment, including:
* Shopping centers. With a $50 million commitment from the California Public Employees Retirement System (which could grow to $200 million), Johnson Development Corp. plans to build shopping centers in urban areas throughout the state areas that traditionally have lacked retail districts.
Johnson also plans to develop 10 to 12 Starbucks coffee shops and T.G.I. Friday restaurants per year in inner-city neighborhoods under partnerships he entered in February. By the end of this year, Johnson Development President Kenneth Lombard estimates the company will control $350 million in property, including the theaters.
* Management. Johnson is giving up his 5 percent ownership in the Los Angeles Lakers in order to start an athlete management business.
* Theaters. Under a five-year expansion plan, Magic Johnson Theatres a joint venture of Johnson Development and Sony Retail Entertainment would grow from the current 39 screens to 500 screens. This includes new multiplexes in the South Bay Pavilion in Carson, Cleveland, Chicago, San Diego, Brooklyn, N.Y., a second Atlanta location and Prince Georges County, Md.
* Entertainment. Under an agreement with Twentieth Century Fox, Magic Johnson Entertainment is developing feature films and television projects. "The Game," an hour-long drama starring Luke Perry set at a sports agency, will premier on ABC next fall. And Johnson and Quincy Jones are producing a two-hour drama for TNT called "Passing Glory," based on the true story of a secret basketball game in 1965 between the top white and black high school teams, which couldn't play against each other openly because of segregation.
Johnson also has a sitcom in development for the 1998-99 season and possibly a daytime talk show next year that he would not host.
To cap it off, Johnson will host his own syndicated late-night talk show on Fox Television stations in June. Called "The Magic Hour," the show will feature celebrity guests, comedy and music but no long monologues on Johnson's part, said Rick Jacobson, president of Fox's Twentieth Television division. Johnson is now preparing for his debut with diction and interview coaches.
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