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Earvin "Magic" Johnson says there's nothing new about his business career.

As a youth growing up in Michigan, he had a paper route, shoveled snow and cleaned offices. During the years he was leading the Lakers to five NBA championships, Johnson launched businesses on the side and sought practical advice from Lakers owner Jerry Buss and, later, agent Michael Ovitz.

With his basketball career now over, Johnson, 38, said he is focusing on his expanding empire, which he oversees from a Wilshire Boulevard high-rise in Beverly Hills. That includes his upcoming late-night talk show. Johnson clearly loves to talk business, spending nearly two hours with Business Journal editors and reporters. Here are excerpts of that conversation:

Q: With all your various businesses you've got theaters, you've got a development company, and now you're getting into show business is your heart in one place more than another?

A: I think I'm just like any other businessman. A businessman very rarely just has one thing going on. I'm a person who has to have a lot on his plate. You've got to have people in those positions who can actually run the business. I get the best of the best and let them do their job.

Q: You've helped create jobs in the inner city through your theaters. But, at the same time, many say that what's really needed there are factories with high-paying jobs. Do you have a perspective on that?

A: The problem has been the media more than anything else because (of stories emphasizing crime). That scares a lot of people from going into the inner city. But hopefully what we've done, through the theaters and through Johnson Development, is show them that they can. But they've got to do it with the right partner, somebody who is in the community. You can't bring in somebody from the suburbs to try to run an inner-city industry. It's not going to work. You've got to have somebody who understands the people, the workforce.

Q: What do you say to those people who ask, "When are we going to get higher-paying jobs?"

A: A job is a job, especially when you have a good job. Our jobs are good jobs. They're not high-paying jobs, but they're good jobs. And when you talk to young people, they all like to be in that theater and that's the people we're employing. We're taking them off the street. The other people, yeah, they have a gripe and I'm happy that they do want high-paying jobs. That's good. It's going to take more than myself.


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