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Basketball mogul is scoring big

On a lark, Bill Johnson responded to the newspaper advertisement offering basketball franchises, just to see what it was about.

Now, with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (no relation) on his team, the 42-year-old real estate broker is finding that selling jump shots from way downtown is almost as profitable selling downtown office space.

Between jobs and during a downturn in the real estate market two years ago, Bill Johnson paid Hoops USA, of Fargo, N.D., $20,000 for one of its camper-sized basketball shooting games and the franchise rights to operate it.

Since then, Johnson has hauled the game everywhere from a bar mitzvah in Miami to the Taste of Pasco food festival in New Port Richey earlier this month.

Each time he makes anywhere from $1 a game to as much as $500 a night, from people eager to swish a few over cutouts of Jordan, Bird and Johnson into two unguarded baskets.

It's not as simple as it may sound: The two goals have tilted rims, and Chicago Bulls star Jordan and retired Boston Celtics great Bird have motorized arms that try to block the goals they guard.

If players make a final-buzzer shot over Jordan, they win a coupon good for free food at local restaurants, including Gators on the Pass at Treasure Island, where Johnson keeps the game when it's not on the road.

Players also get points for making goals. Out of a possible 50 points, Johnson said the highest score on his game was 48, by a University of South Florida student.

"I have a great time with it," said Johnson, a broker with bbre/Eshenbaugh Commercial Services Inc. in Clearwater. "And, while in real estate you may work six months before you see any money, this produces cash immediately."

Johnson is reluctant to talk about how much he makes from the game but said there have been a few months when he has made more from it than from the real estate business.

"I'd say you could gross in the first year $25,000," he said. "You could pay for a machine in the first year."

Johnson is so confident about the market _ not the real estate market, the market for his Hoops game _ that he's thinking about buying another one of the machines in a few years.