Since retiring from basketball, Earvin "Magic" Johnson has built a business empire with roots in urban America. It pays to know the community, he says.

The orchestrator of the Lakers' highflying "Showtime" teams in the 1980s, which netted five NBA championships, has crafted a second career by investing his time and, in many cases, other people's money in long-ignored urban neighborhoods through his Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund.

These days the money comes a crucial time as investments in commercial projects had fallen off dramatically because of the credit crunch and the downturn in real estate values.

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