Johnson said Wednesday he will produce and occasionally appear in the MTV reality show "Who's Got Game," documenting the lives of 12 street basketball players competing for fame and a $100,000 prize.
Johnson said he's trying to play to his strengths as an athlete after the ill-advised attempt to be a comedian-interviewer on his own late-night talk show, which was pummeled by critics and canceled after two months.
"This is what I'm all about: basketball. I grew up playing street basketball. I wasn't myself in 'The Magic Hour,"' said Johnson, who will visit neighborhoods in cities such as Washington, New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles in the next two months scouting for contestants.
"I want the guys who are just street ballplayers," he said. "They're not as famous as guys in college and the NBA, but they're famous in their own neighborhoods or playgrounds."
Contestants will be limited to men over 18, but Johnson said he would consider a new version with women if the show succeeds.
Set to debut this summer, the show would include 10 episodes showcasing the history of the players, their interactions with each other off the court and ending with a basketball game.
Players would be eliminated from the teams after each show and the final episode would be a one-on-one competition, Johnson said. Besides the money, the winner will get his neighborhood court refurbished and renamed in his honor.
Johnson said he will be "in and out" of the show in a background role.
"It's not about me," he said. "It's about the street ballplayers. ... This is their shot for everybody around the world to finally get to know them."
Johnson, who announced he was HIV-positive in 1991, helped the Los Angeles Lakers win five championships during his National Basketball Association career. Subsequently, he's built a business empire including movie theaters, restaurants, shopping centers and a bank. Last year, he was named one of Fortune magazine's 50 "Most Powerful Black Executives."
Unlike Fox's "American Idol," in which amateur singers aspire to win a recording contract, "Who's Got Game" makes no professional promises.
By Anthony Breznican