Magic Johnson speaks on 'tough day' for Foxwoods employees, guests

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Mashantucket — At Foxwoods Resort Casino, the show went on Tuesday, the day after Felix Rappaport’s sudden death.

Rappaport, Foxwoods’ president and chief executive officer, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, said Jason Guyot, a Foxwoods senior vice president, who greeted employees and guests who’d been invited to hear Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the National Basketball Association legend and successful entrepreneur who’s more recently carved out space as a motivational speaker.

Johnson talked for about 40 minutes in the Fox Theater, offering an uplifting message to an audience of about 160 people.

“We stand here today with heavy hearts,” Guyot said. “We’ve lost our fearless leader — a mentor, a friend who many times seemed larger than life.”

Rappaport, 65, was found dead of natural causes Monday in the Foxwoods hotel suite where he'd been staying.

After a moment of silence in Rappaport’s honor, Guyot welcomed to the stage Jeffrey Osborne, the Providence-born musician and a longtime Johnson friend who introduced the man known simply as “Magic.”

“I know it’s a tough time for all of you,” Johnson began.

Flashing his trademark smile, he walked down from the stage and easily moved among the audience members, posing for photographs with those he engaged and eventually taking questions. He said he went from the basketball court to the boardroom by putting his teammates first and knowing his competitors.

“I knew Larry Bird was taking 2,000 shots a day, so I knew I had to take 2,000 shots a day,” he said, recalling the star of the Boston Celtics teams that battled his Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.

You’ve got to know your audience, too, Johnson said.

“I built 125 Starbucks in urban communities, but I knew we had to take the scones out. ... We don’t eat scones,” he said to laughter. “We eat sweet potato pie.”

Johnson, whose NBA career ended more than two decades ago, became a force in business, starting with movie theaters and Starbucks franchises and acquiring a share of the Lakers, which he later sold. In 2012, he became co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, and also owns a share of the Los Angeles Sparks of the Women's National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club and Team Liquid, an esports franchise.

"Live by this word,” Johnson advised: “Overdeliver.”

Gerald Davis of Montville, a customer service representative and high-limit table games dealer at Foxwoods, qualified for his invite to Tuesday’s event by being a former Employee of the Year and having received other recognition from casino management.

He said he’d heard for years that Johnson owned the company that makes Michael Jordan T-shirts. So, given the chance, he raised his hand and asked Johnson, who confirmed it.

Magic, he said, knows a good brand when he sees one.

Johnson concluded his talk by asking the audience members to stand, reach out to the people next to them and bow their heads. And to remember Felix Rappaport.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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