Basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar bestowed the Brass Ring Award on Saturday on NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson at the Carousel of Hope Ball. Hosted by Barbara Davis, and presented by Mercedes Benz, the biannual black-tie gala raised funds for the
Emcee Jay Leno called himself “the least famous person in the room,” and indeed, the Beverly Hilton’s ballroom was packed with music icons, such as Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Rod Stewart, Natalie Cole, songwriter Diane Warren and Motown founder Berry Gordy; comedy greats Kathy Griffin and Jon Lovitz; actors, business leaders and others, including Anjelica Huston, Diane Keaton, Bellamy Young, Raquel Welch, Joan Collins, Kelly Lynch, Larry King, Nigel Lythgoe and Kat Dennings. David Foster served as music director, George Schlatter as producer, and Quincy Jones and Clive Davis as music chairs.
“You know what I love? It’s 10:30 and the room is still full,” said Foster. “Now for L.A., that’s some kind of record.” True, while gala-goers often head for the exit after the last spoonful of dessert, almost everyone stuck around to the very end of the sterling musical line-up: Josh Groban, Jennifer Hudson and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.
Groban started the show, acknowledging that he performed at the Carousel Ball at about age 19. “Everybody still feels like they can pinch my cheeks,” he said, later dedicating “You Raise Me Up” to Johnson.
Hudson belted out her signature tune, “And I Am Telling You,” and Edmonds took on the challenge of improvising a song, using the phrase “Carousel of Hope Delivers Dreams.” (He rhymed it with “streams.”)
In recognition of Johnson’s humanitarian efforts, Jabbar described the honoree as an extraordinary athlete, extraordinary human being and a proven leader, before adding a few words about Johnson’s famous smile. “You know that smile, the one that can light up a room, brighten an arena and illuminate the world,” he said.
Johnson, in turn, recounted his first experience with the Davis family, many years ago when he cold-called the event chair’s late husband. He hoped, he said, to get business tips from Marvin Davis, the former owner of 20th Century Fox. “I said, ‘Marvin, can I take you to lunch?’ and he said, ‘No, but I’ll take you to lunch,' ” Johnson recalled, before going on to praise Barbara Davis for raising millions of dollars to help people lead long, healthy lives.
The gala attracted nearly 1,000 guests with tickets priced from $1,000, tables ranging up to $100,000 and a live auction that included, among other items, a 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe. The gala also featured a substantial silent auction. Final results are still being tabulated.