All around him there are signs. Earvin Johnson sees his buddy Larry Bird coming very quickly to the end. He sees his mentor and old teammate Kareem Abdul Jabbar and can't help think of the millions mismanaged. He sees his coach Pat Riley resign and recognizes the likelihood that the Lakers may be undergoing a make over. Magic Johnson still loves basketball, maybe more than anything in the world, but he is not about to ignore one thing: "It's all a reminder," he said this week, "that basketball is not forever. That fact is becoming more and more evident right now."

That is why Magic and magazine publisher Earl Graves bought a Pepsi-Cola franchise located in Washington, D.C., area. Of the $60 million committed, it is said that Magic put up approximately one-third. During a discussion with a small group of reporters several days ago, Magic was asked how involved he gets with a business to which he lends his name.

The questioner obviously didn't know that immediately after the Pepsi deal was consummated -- one of the few of its kind for black entrepreneurs -- Magic went to visit Safeway and Giant food stores in the Washington area. Or that he visited local politicians, then potential and current vendors from 6 a.m. until 11 o'clock that night, to get a grip on his complicated new venture.

The questioner apparently didn't know that Johnson, whose all-star classic Sunday night raised more than $1 million for the United Negro College Fund, traveled to more than one historically black university to talk to students and see where his philanthropic effort was going.

"I don't lend my name to anything without getting fully involved," Magic said. "The primary question businessmen asked me during {the negotiations} were how and what I was going to be doing, to what extent I would be involved. I told Pepsi I'm going to be involved in all the major decisions, from hiring and firing, to marketing plans . . . every aspect. I'm in it all the way. I told them, 'I'm here to do business, not talk basketball. I have a suit and tie on, I'm here to make a deal.' "

Johnson didn't know the Pepsi franchise would be located in the Washington area until after another deal was completed, but he remembered thinking to himself one day during the negotiations (which dropped the price from $80 million to $60 million): "If we had the chance to choose, D.C. would be the spot."

Now, after the fact, he says, "D.C. is a natural. Being in the Nation's Capital, with strong minority business people, is exciting. I'm really up for this. There was a higher cost involved because it would be located in D.C., but being in D.C. was worth it to all of us. D.C. is phenomenal. The response from business people was warm, but the response from the community was really something. I'll have a staff of people in and out of D.C., and I'll be in touch with them. Constantly. Just a phone call away."

This is the time of year Magic calls, "dry time." Thing is, many of the days are filled with business and projects that relate to education. He wants to own a professional sports team. Not be a limited partner but own the team. Politicians in Michigan have suggested that Magic, a Michigan State alumnus, consider seeking election to the school's board of trustees, something he is looking into.

Athletes pay lip service to "giving back to the community;" Magic puts on his game -- a Midsummer's Night Magic -- and gives the revenue to UNCF. "The alums of our historically black schools aren't rich very often. Those schools don't have large endowments. They can't raise tuition. Where's the money going to come from to educate these kids?"

More than $1 million of it came from Magic's game last year and more than $1 million was generated Sunday night when he, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and others filled the Forum. Magic's game is the largest continuous fund-raiser UNCF has. It spawned a similar affair Wilkins now puts on in Atlanta, and golf tournaments started by Jordan and NBC's Bryant Gumbel.

Magic's entire affair is underwritten by corporate sponsors, many of them men who were initially attracted to him because of his celebrity. Talk starts basketball, but ends up business. And Magic isn't the one answering the questions. "I've always been interested in business," he said, "but the first five years in the NBA, I just concentrated on playing. That was it.

"But the last five, six years, when I've talked to people like Bill Cosby, Marvin Davis, even Dr. {Jerry} Buss {owner of the Lakers}, and Donald Trump. I bug the heck out of 'em. 'How did you acquire this particular business? Where did you gain your expertise in this area?' Now, while everybody else is laying on the beach, I'm asking questions, trying to get to the next phase.

"If you're asking me what triggered this, part of it was Kareem's situation that woke me up to a lot of it," he said, referring to the millions Abdul-Jabbar lost through bad business deals and mismanagement. "I just became determined that it wouldn't happen to me. I guess you could say I learned something from a dear friend."

There's something else driving him, too. Stereotypes. "I'm in position to let other people know that some athletes have business sense, too, and that minority businessmen can be successful, too. Breaking the stereotypes has always been important to me."

Magic wanted people to know, especially the kids in D.C., that his business deal with Pepsi has little to do with athletics, that basketball was his vehicle, "but it is not the only vehicle" for becoming entrepreneurial. "I'm looking forward to meeting kids in Washington and working with them, reaching out to them," Magic said.

Magic wasn't talking about developing more basketball players; he was talking about developing business minds. He wants to build a business empire and this is the first step. "When it's time for life to go on," Magic said, "I'll be ready to go with it."