Magic Johnson on His Winning Ways

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Magic Johnson on His Winning Ways


The Gist

  • Magic Johnson at NRF Big Show. Magic Johnson’s determination in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals exemplifies how attitude and willingness to go the extra mile can lead to success.
  • Embrace innovation. The NRF Big Show showcases quirky technologies, reminding brands to be open to new, unconventional solutions while understanding their customers’ evolving needs.
  • Instinctive adaptation. Trusting a brand’s instinct, rooted in customer understanding, is crucial for adapting and developing experiences that resonate in an ever-changing market.

Some stories have a way of staying with you. Take, for instance, the time Earvin “Magic” Johnson, in his rookie season, steered the Lakers to an NBA championship victory. This was despite the absence of his teammate and league MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was out due to an injury.

Few, particularly among Lakers fans, believed that the rookie sensation would step up to guide his team to clinch the coveted NBA trophy on that memorable night — but Magic did just that. 

NRF Big Show: Magic Johnson on Being Magical

This past week found me at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) “Big Show” in New York City, and guess who was one of the speakers? Magic Johnson himself. As a sports fan I couldn’t wait to hear Magic talk about what makes him so magical.

The National Retail Federation's (NRF) “Big Show” was held in New York City in 2024; people gather around a display at the show.
The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) “Big Show” was held in New York City in January 2024.Jason Dixson Photography on the National Retail Federation Website

Magic began by revisiting the story of the 1980 NBA Finals (as mentioned earlier). He recounted how the team’s spirits were somewhat dampened following Kareem’s ankle injury, but emphasized that he never allowed a shred of doubt to enter his mind.

“You know after Kareem went down, I knew that the team needed new energy to keep us on track. So, on the flight to Philadelphia for Game 6, I sat in Kareem’s seat at the front of the plane and told every player that walked past me, ‘No need to fear, Magic is here’ with a big smile.”

That sparked a hearty, unanimous laugh from the NRF Big Show audience.

What you may not know is Magic is part owner of various professional sports teams. The Washington Commanders, The Los Angeles Dodgers, The MLS soccer team Los Angeles FC and the WNBA team The Los Angeles Sparks.

Related Article: Top Takeaways From NRF 2023 Retail’s Big Show

How Magic Approaches Business

Magic approaches his businesses the same way he approached that infamous 1980 Game 6.

“In all seriousness though, that Game 6 story is an important lesson in how I run my businesses today,” Magic said. “And it applies to all of the brands in this room too. Whenever you’re a player or a business and you’re swimming up stream against a new competitor or adversary, the stakes are always going to be higher,” Magic said with a serious tone. “But you have to remember what got you to that moment, that game, that chapter in your life. You must rise to the challenge and embrace the role that’s needed to take it to the next level. Today, I only hire people who can run with me and have the attitude that we can beat anyone — regardless of the situation.”

Magic Johnson’s insights offer a fitting introduction to the current journey of retailers. The stakes are at an all-time high, competition is fiercer than ever, and numerous brands are rapidly emerging, positioning themselves to compete with the top-tier players in the industry.

But no need to fear, there’s some magic here that can guide your brand through the unpredictable seas of delivering exceptional customer experiences. Let’s dive into the key insights and themes from NRF that brands should zero in on for the year 2024.

Related Article: AI Is Transforming Ecommerce Into a Virtual Playground

NRF Big Show Lesson 1: Keeping the Lights on an Extra 3 Minutes

Hal Lawton is the CEO of the Tractor Supply Company. One of the super cool things Tractor Supply does is their team members start every meeting with a customer story. Hal decided to follow tradition and start his keynote presentation with a story. Hal described how a store stayed open an extra three minutes one night so a farmer could pick up some products as their new baby calf wasn’t able to feed from it’s mother. Hal read a letter from the customer who expressed extreme jubilation and happiness that their local Tractor Supply store kept the lights on an extra three minutes so they could pick up their order.



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