“I’m a sensitive man,” says Magic Johnson. “Man, I shouldn’t be telling my weaknesses … but I do cry at movies. I will admit that. I’m giving too many secrets away!”
In a new interview for this week’s cover story of Variety, Johnson expanded on some untold stories from his upcoming docuseries “They Call Me Magic,” premiering on April 22 on Apple TV Plus.
Here are some things we learned from one of the most influential basketball players in history.
Rivalry on the Court: “It’s no question: Larry Bird. We’re linked together forever,” Johnson says when asked to name his fiercest basketball competitor. Their rivalry began before either of them had made it to the NBA in the ’80s. They played each other — Johnson for Michigan State University and Bird for Indiana State University — in the NCAA Championship, which Michigan won. “Who ever thought that game in 1979 — this is over 40 years ago — would still be the No. 1 watched college basketball game in history?”
“And after that, we go in in the two most storied franchises. He ends up in Boston [with the Celtics], I end up in L.A. It’s Hollywood stuff, right? I still hate that blonde-head dude,” Johnson continued, laughing.
Who Wears Short Shorts?: “Them shorts were real short back in the day, you got that right,” Johnson says, recalling how differently basketball players were outfitted during his time in the NBA. “The other day, I pulled out a box — sometimes I like to look at my uniform. I looked at them, I said, ‘I can’t even get one leg, one foot in them shorts now! I actually prefer the way we looked and the way we performed in those little hot pants that we used to wear.”
The Secret to Magic’s Success: Johnson also discussed his philosophy as a businessman. His company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, which has holding worth an estimated $1 billion. “I’m successful because I had mentors Dr. Jerry Buss, [owner] of the Lakers, became one of my first ones,” he explained. “[And] two gentlemen in the doc series, Greg Eaton and Joel Ferguson, Black men who were successful allowed me to say, ‘I can do it too.’”
HIV Activism: “A disease that was whispered about before, we brought to the forefront,” he says about his HIV activism since being diagnosed 1991. “There was a lot of stigma involved, which is not the case anymore. And you have a lot of people dating where one partner has HIV, the other partner doesn’t. It’s a lot different today. And — this is the most important point — you can live with it for a long time now. [It’s been] 30 years for me. A lot of people [have survived with HIV for] 30, 40 years now. The medicine has gotten a lot better.”
Magic Loves Movies: Johnson is a film buff. He shared that he helped Spike Lee fund his 1992 biopic “Malcolm X” after the filmmaker had gone over-budget. And when he has free time, he spends much of it in theaters with his family: “On vacation, I’ll watch 5 or 6 movies in a row.”
Watch the full video above.