Magic’s money

Ervin “Magic” Johnson stepped off stage towards the audience at the eighth annual Portland State Simon Benson Awards Dinner on March 19, abruptly ending his keynote speech.

Ervin “Magic” Johnson stepped off stage towards the audience at the eighth annual Portland State Simon Benson Awards Dinner on March 19, abruptly ending his keynote speech.

The man deemed Magic for his breathtaking moves on the basketball court then made a proposal to everyone at the ceremony: he asked whether anyone would buy a signed jersey and his personal courtside seats to an upcoming Lakers game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

With all proceeds of the last-second auction going to Portland State, the first bid of $1,000 quickly grew as hands flew up in the auction for the tickets. Some of the money came after the former NBA all-star had agreed to play one-on-one with several individuals.

Before long, Johnson’s spontaneous auction had gathered $91,000 for Portland State.

The Simon Benson Awards celebrate the philanthropic acts of Northwest residents. The event is meant to award the most prominent and benevolent philanthropists in Portland.

Johnson, introduced by former Portland State Viking and current Blazer forward Ime Udoka, praised the philanthropists as a “prime example of how a city can be successful and grow.” Johnson left the NBA after he contracted HIV in 1991 and has since worked as a businessman and philanthropist.

The former Los Angles Lakers star spoke about the importance of rejuvenating impoverished, inner-city communities and said that giving back is crucial to communities. Johnson said the Magic Johnson Foundation has touched lives across the nation.

“It is important to understand how the public and private sectors can work together to make great things happen in communities,” Johnson said, “not only here in Portland, but across the country.”

The Oregon Convention Center housed the reception, dinner and entertainment for one of Portland’s largest awards ceremony philanthropic events. Most of the nearly 850 Portland philanthropists in attendance paid $250 for a gourmet salad, plate of Alaskan Halibut and rich chocolate ganache cake.

Once the reception came to a close, plates were distributed and the gala began. Portland State President Daniel Bernstine and PSU senior Thomas Ezra gave the opening remarks.

Kelley Day, the master of ceremonies, and Jeff Gianola of Portland’s KOIN-6 News, presented short videos illustrating the benevolent exploits of each awarded philanthropist. Couples Jane and Bob Morrow, and Sharon and Bob Miller, were honored for longtime donations to a litany of organizations across the city, as well as supporting numerous Portland State programs.

Johnson identified education as a crucial aspect of social and economical makeover to develop America’s inner-city communities.

“Education is the key to changing urban America,” the basketball legend said. “If urban America is ever going to change, we have to learn how to dominate education.”

Once a stable presence in education is established and success is imminent, Johnson said residents of urban communities should complete the cycle by giving back. He said he hopes donations and contributions from those who have enjoyed success will ensure the future successes of less fortunate inner-city kids.

“Overall it was a great success. Everyone had an excellent time, and many said it was the best we have ever had,” Bernstine said. “The ceremony was great, especially when he went out in the audience and raised money for Portland State. What more could you ask for?”

Bernstine said the objectives of Johnson’s foundations are pertinent to the ideals established at Portland State.

“What Magic does is an important part of what we try to do here at Portland State,” Bernstine said. “We try to develop the University, but also the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The night ended with Johnson fielding the questions of inquisitive spectators, ranging from the goals of his foundation to battles on the court with Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas during his days in the NBA.

“The message we are trying to get across is, if you don’t dream it, you can’t become it,” Johnson said. “This is why we are trying to build up urban America to make it a desirable place to live.”

The Magic Johnson Foundation, established in 1991, works to enhance community-based organizations with the educational, health and social needs of inner-city residents across the country. Its credo is “We are the communities we serve.”

The Johnson Development Corporation is dedicated to revitalizing poverty-stricken communities, maintaining partnerships with T.G.I. Friday’s, Washington Mutual, Magic Johnson Theatres and the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund. He also owns the only partnership with Starbucks, the leading retailer, roaster and brand of specialty coffee in North America.

“When you talk about urban America, what we try to do is bring quality retailers to the communities. That means there are more job opportunities for those who live within urban America,” said Johnson.