By Karen Billing
Earvin “Magic” Johnson is about two things: Winning and giving back. At the Jewish Federation of San Diego’s 16th annual Men’s Event “The Magic of Caring for Others” on Dec. 6, the fierce competitor admitted that he still hates Celtics green and he regularly crushes his 17-year-old daughter in one-one one.
The Lakers’ NBA Hall of Famer said he learned in his life that you have to work hard to win and earn success and once you’re blessed with that success you have to pass it on — but not too early on the break to Kurt Rambis (“he would travel every time,” Magic cracked).
“I love helping people and it makes me feel really good to help,” said Johnson. “As you bless others you will be blessed and there’s nothing greater than that. You can’t take the money with you.”
More than 900 men attended the Men’s Event at the Del Mar Fairgrounds to hear Johnson speak as well as Gal Fridman, the only Israeli Olympic gold medalist. The event was free due to the generous underwriting by the Mizel Family Foundation. The foundation saw a leap in attendance from 250 attendees last year to the huge numbers last week.
“This is an incredible opportunity to bring lots of people together to support a vital center of Jewish life in San Diego,” said Carmel Valley resident Alan Viterbi, one of the event co-chairs. “This organization is responsible for helping so many people in need throughout San Diego, throughout Israel, and throughout the world.”
Viterbi said it was amazing to have two world-class athletes like Johnson and Fridman as guest speakers, both of whom have dedicated their lives to giving back to others.
Fridman won the silver medal in windsurfing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Fridman said upon winning — the emotional moment when his national anthem played with people singing along so loudly he could not hear the recording — his mind flashed on words his coach had told him during training.
“My coach had told me I needed to think about what sort of person I wanted to be after I won the medal,” Fridman said.
He accepted his coach’s challenge and began working with underprivileged youth. In the last three years he has seen graduation rates grow in Israel and seen 90 percent go on to serve their country in the Israel Defense Forces.
Johnson said his love of giving back started early.
Growing up “very, very poor” in Michigan and with nine siblings, he learned early that he had to work for himself in order to earn any extra money.
“My father said there’s a rake for fall and a shovel for winter and a lawn mower for summer,” Johnson said.
He remembers one day going door to door to shovel snow in weather that was 7 degrees below zero. He got back home to thaw out with some extra dollars in his pocket when his parents told him he wasn’t done yet. They told him he needed to go back out and shovel the snow in his elderly neighbors’ yards because they weren’t able to get out — and he’d do it for free.