The 2018 American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting got off to a magical start today when basketball legend, businessman, and HIV/AIDS advocate Earvin “Magic” Johnson delivered the keynote address at the convention’s opening session, drawing upon his experiences, both on the basketball court and in the business world, to empower attendees to embrace their potential as health care providers and leaders.

Beginning his story in high school, Johnson described how he got his first taste of leadership when he was called on by his principal to help ease racially-charged tensions among his classmates. He then went on to lead his high school basketball team to its first state championship.

“A leader understands that in any situation they know how to adapt and adjust to make that situation a positive one,” Johnson said. “Then a leader figures it out no matter how things are going how to overcome and be successful.”

Moving to his college years, Johnson explained that although he was eager to play professionally, he chose to remain in school because he discerned that he was not yet ready. The pharmacists, he said, should similarly evaluate their own strengths and weakness and look for opportunities for growth.

“How have you been performing at your hospital?” Johnson asked. “Move that weakness to a strength in 2019. Every year I challenge myself to get better; that’s what leaders do.”

Recounting his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson noted that he would regularly arrive at practice early and bombard his teammates with questions on how to improve. Asking all students in the room in stand up, he advised them to likewise manage their time and seek mentors.

“You have to ask questions. They were mad at me for asking questions, but they made me a better basketball player and a better professional,” Johnson explained. “Put the time in, young people, and it will come back to you.”

While discussing his basketball career, Johnson acknowledged that he felt he had let his team down on occasion, but encouraged his audience to learn and grow from their perceived failures.
“When you fail, you take that and turn it around,” he stated. “Students, you may not get that job you want right out of college, but stay with it and overdeliver.”

Johnson then explained how, after retiring from the NBA, he turned his attention to business and philanthropy. Stressing the importance of preventive care, he highlighted his efforts to provide children in low-income urban communities access to free physicals.

“I want to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Finally, Johnson reflected on his HIV diagnosis, thanking pharmacists for their crucial role in treating patients with the disease. Referring to pharmacists, doctors, and nurses as a “dream team,” he ultimately emphasized the  importance of learning and adapting as health care continues to change.

“We rely on you and your expertise so much,” he concluded. “Never forget that you are the best of the best, and make sure you keep overdelivering to those patients and work with doctors and nurses to come up with the right game plan.”