Magic Johnson’s controversial comments could cause a rift between the Los Angeles Lakers and the man who has been their unofficial ambassador to the public.
When Magic Johnson went on ESPN‘s First Take talk show on Monday and flung open a closet containing skeletons that the Los Angeles Lakers surely wanted to keep secret, it felt like the burning of a longstanding bridge.
Magic has been a staple of the Lakers organization and a constant face of the franchise for 40 years, starting when he was drafted by L.A. in 1979.
As a player, he helped the Lakers win five NBA championships as the floor general of the “Showtime” dynasty. As an executive, he orchestrated the free agent signing of LeBron James. There was also a brief stint as Lakers’ head coach, and at one time Magic owned a small percentage of the team.
No matter his actual job title over those four decades — even when he wasn’t officially working for the franchise — Magic also held the unofficial position of Lakers’ global ambassador.
Arguably the most charismatic and fan-friendly athlete in the history of sports, Magic was the personality and presence who represented the Lakers anywhere he went. Even when he didn’t say anything, Magic was their best spokesman.
Have you noticed that whenever the NFL’s New York Jets do anything, from drafting a new quarterback to hiring a new coach to winning a playoff game, the media inevitably tracks down Joe Namath for his thoughts?
Do you remember how the late Ernie Banks, a.k.a. “Mr. Cub,” seemed to be there for anything significant involving MLB’s Chicago Cubs until his death in 2015?
Magic Johnson has been that guy for the Lakers.
But his tenure may have ended on May 20, 2019.
That’s when Magic went on “First Take” and spilled the proverbial tea about what happened within the organization that led him to quit his job as president of basketball operations last month.
Long story short, Magic claims he was the victim of “betrayal” by members of the front office. He name-checked general manager Rob Pelinka and vice president of business operations Tim Harris, detailing in-house power struggles such as the decision to fire head coach Luke Walton.
Magic was mostly complimentary toward team owner Jeanie Buss, but even without criticizing her directly, his statements were an obvious indictment of Buss’ inability to keep the Lakers from turning into a mess.
The timing was either a planned gut-punch or a happy accident, as Magic’s interview happened hours before the Lakers held their own press conference to introduce new coach Frank Vogel.
Pelinka was asked about Magic’s comments at that press conference, and of course he denied the allegations of betrayal.
Those remaining in leadership positions with the Lakers may not come out and trash Magic — who is still an icon among the fanbase and mostly beloved by the media — but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Magic and the Lakers gradually distance themselves from each other even more.
If Magic receives or initiates an unofficial demotion from his unofficial position as the Lakers’ ambassador, who might step into that role?
Here are four candidates.