NORTH RANDALL, Ohio — In the final episode of the four-part Apple TV+ docuseries ”They Call Me Magic,” the focus shifts from Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s playing days in the NBA to his evolution as a savvy businessman and entrepreneur.
Johnson’s post-basketball interests were inspired in part by the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Seeing members of the Black community destroy Black-owned businesses, he wanted to become an agent of change.
“If you don’t make a difference in the Black community, it doesn’t matter that you’re winning all those championships,” he says in the episode.
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Realizing many minority communities lacked nice first-run movie theaters, Johnson, a frequent moviegoer himself, set his sights on the movie exhibition business. The first Magic Johnson Theatres location opened in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1995.
Four years later, the former Lakers superstar expanded his growing chain to Greater Cleveland at Randall Park Mall in North Randall, a moment that is shown in the episode. The Magic Theatres opened with great fanfare including a ribbon cutting and appearance by Johnson in December 1999. The state-of-the-art cinema featured 12 large screens with stadium seating and a concession stand with a fancy menu that included Buffalo wings, pizza and popcorn shrimp.
In fact, I recall seeing “102 Dalmations” there in late 2000 specifically because of the popcorn shrimp. Indeed, the moviegoing experience at the Magic Theatres was completely unlike the small, decrepit three-screen cinema that General Cinemas operated inside the mall from 1976 to 1993.
“It has played a great role in improving morale among all the tenants and our everyday customers,” Randall Park Mall GM John Vavrus told WEWS Channel 5 prior to the theater’s opening. “The overall tenant sales I predict will be up 5 to 10 percent, but I won’t be at all surprised to see as high as 20 percent increases.”
But the cinema suffered a blemish a few weeks after its grand opening when a man was shot leaving the theater late at night in January 2000. A spokesperson called the shooting “an isolated incident.”
“I don’t see any reason why people would not want to continue coming to the mall,” North Randall Mayor Shelton Richardson told The Plain Dealer at the time. “The theater by far is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this community.”
The theater stayed in business for several years, surviving a change in ownership from Loews to AMC in 2006 and a decline in foot traffic at the mall next door. But in March 2007, citing low ticket sales, AMC decided to close the Magic Johnson 12.
The cinema was later purchased by an independent movie theater operator and renamed the O Theater. But it struggled, too, and closed. The vacant building was damaged by arson in 2016 and later torn down along with the rest of the mall to make way for an Amazon fulfillment center.
Today, two of the six original Magic Johnson-branded theaters remain open, in Harlem in New York City and suburban Washington, D.C., though he doesn’t own either of them. Johnson remains an influential and powerful figure in the business world, creating opportunities for Black, minority and women entrepreneurs through his many and varied interests.
The four-part docuseries “They Call Me Magic” is streaming now on Apple TV+.
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