Remembering Magic Johnson and Howard Stern's Bizarre Interview on 'The Magic Hour' (Video)

45 ENDPG Los Angeles Lakers Jack Nicholson H IPAD
Brian Lanken/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

From left: Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis and Johnson of the 1986 Lakers gave No. 1 fan Jack Nicholson a lift.

THR takes a look back at the NBA star's brief, awkward tenure as a late night host and his most memorable guest.

This story appears in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Earvin "Magic"Johnson, now 52, won five NBA titles when he played for the 1980s "Showtime" Lakers; his Magic Johnson Enterprises, which once included a theater chain, was estimated by Forbes in 2009 to be worth $500 million; and as of Dec. 2, he was part of a bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But he threw up a brick when he entered the late-night talk show business with 1998's The Magic Hour, two years after ending his 13-year playing career.

The Hollywood Reporter review said the syndicated Twentieth Television show was "absent the spark of spontaneity and sharp conversation." While Magic Hour started strong and even briefly topped CBS' Late Show With David Letterman in the New York ratings, success was fleeting.

Critics said Johnson seemed stiff on-air, was prone to mumbling and had poor interviewing skills. His sidekick, comic Craig Shoemaker, was fired for calling the show "an absolute nightmare."

But Magic Hour did have one high point when its most high-profile critic, Howard Stern, was invited as a guest. The shock jock began by asking, "Where's the white guy, the comedian?" (Johnson's response: "We weren't clicking"), then gave the novice host interviewing advice ("Loosen up and talk Ebonics all you want. Why does everyone have to understand every word you say?") and asked detailed questions about Johnson's sex life before becoming HIV-positive in 1991.

Although the Stern appearance doubled the show's ratings, it was off the air after three months. Johnson then focused on deals with Burger King, PepsiCo, Ron Burkle and others that financially freed him from ever having to host a talk show again.