Magic Johnson's Shoe Deal: Regrets Choosing Converse Over Nike

Magic Johnson has earned impressive salaries as an NBA player and through endorsements, but choosing Converse over Nike early in his career cost him a lot of money.

Kathryn Underwood - Author

Apr. 11 2022, Published 11:13 a.m. ET

Magic Johnson
Source: Magic Johnson Facebook

Earvin "Magic" Johnson has been a successful investor and businessman since his NBA days with the Lakers.

The world is getting a front-row seat to the inner workings of the Los Angeles Lakers from the 1980s thanks to a new HBO drama series about the franchise. In Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, top NBA players like Magic Johnson are key characters. Johnson made a long-regretted shoe deal discussed in episode six.

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The 62-year-old former professional basketball player has gone on to business success as the CEO and chairman of investment firm Magic Johnson Enterprises. However, in the miniseries Winning Time, Johnson’s decision to partner with Converse instead of Nike for a shoe endorsement deal didn’t turn out as he expected.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson declined a Nike deal for stock options.

Despite Johnson’s clear financial and business acumen throughout his adult life, as a young up-and-coming NBA star, he made one regrettable decision that stands out. As explains, Johnson was offered endorsement deals with various companies as his career began to take off.

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Nike symbol
Source: Nike Facebook

A Nike deal including stock could have paid Johnson much more than he earned with Converse.

The HBO series claims that Nike, a newer company in the 1980s, offered Johnson $1 per pair of shoes sold and 100,000 stock shares starting at $0.18 apiece. However, he said in an interview with Ellen Degeneres, “I didn’t know anything about stocks at that time—boy, did I make a mistake. I’m still kicking myself.”

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The precise number of Nike shares that Johnson actually turned down hasn't been confirmed, but as Winning Time estimated, it could have been worth $5.2 billion for the young athlete. Instead, it’s estimated that he made about $2 million annually with his 12-year Converse endorsement deal.

Winning Time
Source: Winning Time Facebook

A scene from "Winning Time" on HBO.

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"Winning Time" chronicles the LA Lakers’ journey to the top.

The HBO series features actors playing real-life people involved in the LA Lakers organization, including Jerry Buss, the owner of the Lakers at the time. His daughter Jeanie Buss took over the organization after his death in 2013. Stories of negotiations and deals are part of the show, including those made by Johnson and other players.

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Magic Johnson still scored an unprecedented NBA contract.

Although he may look back with regret on the decision to go with Converse over Nike, Johnson made some savvy financial decisions during his pro basketball career. He signed a contract for a 25-year extension with the Lakers effective from 1984 for a sum of $25 million. His $1 million annual salary was the highest in sports at that time.

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Johnson didn’t play for 25 more years, but continued to reap the payday when his playing days ended due to HIV.

Magic Johnson Super Bowl
Source: Magic Johnson Facebook

Magic Johnson with family at the Super Bowl in 2022.

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Magic Johnson runs an investment group and co-owns the LA Dodgers.

Johnson is the executive chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, which “provides high-quality products and services that focus primarily on ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities.” With that firm, he developed Magic Johnson Theatres and became a franchisee of Starbucks.

One of his most prominent deals came in 2012, when Johnson became co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in a $2 billion deal. He’s also a co-owner of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club, and eSports franchise Team Liquid.

Johnson has also emphasized investments in minority-owned companies, with a stake in Latin-focused entertainment firm Mitú, among others.


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