'Never Be Satisfied': Magic Johnson on What It Takes to Be a Champion

The basketball legend talks the Dream Team, becoming a businessman, and repping a brand that’s pretty much perfect for him. (It’s Champion.)
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Magic Johnson speaks in words of wisdom. It's like talking to your dad who's caught up in a moment of nostalgia, telling you a story he's told a million times—only now, there's a sagacious undercurrent. He sprinkles in lessons he learned along the way, offering you advice where you didn't really ask for it. But it's his story; he'll offer advice where he sees fit.

Johnson has had a long, successful, and incredibly public-facing career. If he's not known for his longtime career as an L.A. Laker, he's known for his part in the 1992 United States Olympic basketball "Dream Team." The team was historic before it even won gold; it was the first time active NBA players ever double-dipped in the Olympics. With players like Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird, the group blasted basketball onto the international stage. It's been almost 27 years, and the Dream Team remains unparalleled. 

Los Angeles Lakers

IMAGE: Getty Images / Focus On Sport

And when it comes to legacy, there are always reason to celebrate. Johnson partnered up with sportswear brand Champion, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last January, to commemorate both the brand and the Dream Team's penchant for making history. We caught up with the basketball legend to talk his own history with Champion, his love for the game, and his utter aversion to losing. 

He's all about a legacy. 

"We're shining light on a 100 years of Champion and the Dream Team and how we came together to effect change in basketball around the world. Champion has been with us this whole time. It's amazing to see how they've changed as a company to become a lifestyle brand. It's not just practice uniforms and warm-ups anymore. [When I partner with companies], I want to have some history of success, and Champion has that. I want to make sure they give back to the community, Champion has done that. I want to make sure they keep evolving because that's how I want to be. I’ve evolved and I'll keep evolving."


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IMAGE: Getty Images

He's a lifelong Champion devotee. 

"As a kid, Champion was all we wore. Whether you're out on that basketball court or inside, we all had something Champion on. Now you see Champion on people who don't play sports. We were just watching the Laker game the other day, and everyone had something Champion on, whether a hoodie or T-shirt. You don't have to play in sports to wear Champion anymore."

Looking good is part of his reputation. 

"I always want to look good. I don’t care if it's sneakers and jeans or my Tom Ford suit, I always want to look good because that’s part of my reputation. I own over 100 Tom Ford suits, and I have all the the ties and the shoes to go with it. It’s just special—it's the style, it’s the cut, it’s tailor-made. There’s nothing like it. Right now, I’m rocking all the double-breasted suits in particular." 

He knows the NBA's concrete runway is nothing new. 

"The perception has only changed because of social media; we all wore what was hot in our day, too. The difference is the players get to show people right then and there what they have. Unless you came and took a picture of me, no one would’ve known what I wore. Today’s young athletes get to talk to their fans all the time—it’s literally while they're getting dressed sometimes. Social media has helped grow their brand."


Classic Olympics

IMAGE: Getty Images / Icon Sportswire

Basketball or business, Johnson plays to win. 

"Everybody must play their role. You want to get with players who will sacrifice, who understand it’s still about winning. It’s still about giving 150 percent every single night and every single practice. I want smart and intelligent players in my businesses, just like the ones I always played with. I’m just in a different role, but nothing has really changed. One minute you’re playing and the next minute you’re an executive, but I’m always about winning. I’m always about winning, that’s the bottom line with me. I hate to lose."

His life philosophy is simple but effective. 

"Never be satisfied. I wasn't satisfied as a player and even today, as a businessman running my own company, I’m still not satisfied. I don't care what happened in 2018; I want something bigger to happen in 2019. I want to deliver more every day, every week, every month. I’m never going to feel satisfied as a CEO, as a man, or as a person."


This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Christine Flammia
Christine Flammia writes about style, grooming, and more; she is the former associate style editor of Esquire and is currently pursuing a PhD in communications at Columbia.
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