Sodexho USA, one of the nation's largest food preparation companies, announced a joint venture Monday with retired basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson to seek out new food service deals.

Johnson will own 51 percent of the new company to be called SodexhoMagic. It will be based at Sodexho's headquarters in Gaithersburg.

The former NBA all-star, who will work out of Los Angeles, will have a team to seek out new deals using his name as a draw. Financial details of the 10-year agreement were not disclosed.

Sodexho provides meals, housekeeping and grounds services for schools, colleges, hospitals and corporate cafeterias. The company serves more than 10 million people a day and had $6.3 billion in revenue in 2005.

By partnering with Johnson, Sodexho taps into one of the world's most visible celebrity executives.

Johnson retired from the NBA in 1991 after disclosing he was HIV positive but briefly returned to the game in the 1995-1996 season. Since then, he has entered into a series of partnerships with corporations.

He established Magic Johnson Enterprises and in 1994 joined with Sony Entertainment to open the Magic Johnson movie theater chain. In 1998, he joined with Starbucks and now co-owns 100 coffee shops. Johnson also operates 30 Burger King restaurants and a dozen 24 Hour Fitness centers.

"Earvin 'Magic' Johnson has one of the most recognizable names in the world, in business as well as in sports," Sodexho president and CEO Richard Macedonia said in a statement. "He is a genius at applying his business acumen toward creating a demand for services and products."

The deal with Johnson comes as Sodexho tries to distance itself from a 2001 class-action lawsuit that charged the company systematically denied promotions to black managers.

Sodexho settled the suit last year for $80 million. It admitted no wrongdoing but committed to a diversity training initiative.