Back in 1979 after being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, Earvin “Magic” Johnson began leaving his larger than life impact on both a city and an organization. Magic was so beloved and revered by late Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, that Dr. Buss offered Magic a 25-year “lifetime” contract, to ensure his ties to the Lakers organization would continue for years to come. Although born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, Magic would come “home” to Los Angeles in 2017 to lend his efforts to right the Lakers ship, as they were drowning and sinking fast.
The Los Angeles Lakers franchise has won 16 world championships, second only to the Boston Celtics and their 17 NBA Finals victories. Success and greatness are expectations for a franchise that doesn’t settle for second best, as nothing less than a championship will do. While division titles may be celebrated by other teams, Lakers fans yawn at this accomplishment as being merely a stepping stone along the path to the holy grail of an NBA championship victory. An appearance in the NBA Finals won’t suffice, as again, only a victory will do.
During his magnificent playing career, Magic won MVP trophies, led the Lakers to five championships, made multiple All-Star games, and left his name throughout the record books. On November 7, 1991, Magic made the startling revelation that would shock the world, when announcing he had been diagnosed with the HIV virus, forcing him to immediately retire from the NBA.
Magic would enter into the next phase of his life, advocating for research and being a member of various organizations that would champion rights for AIDS victims. Unfortunately, not being able to end his basketball career on his terms gnawed at him. He would come back later in the 1991-92 season to play in the All-Star game, earning MVP honors. A couple of years later, he would briefly play again, thus ending his career on the court as opposed to behind a microphone.
Magic would then go on to become a business mogul, opening Starbucks and TGI Friday franchises, in addition to “Magic Johnson Movie Theaters” across the country. While seemingly having a Midas touch, he did find a few things he wasn’t as successful at, such as briefly serving as Lakers head coach (finishing with a record of 5 wins and 11 losses), as well as trying his hand as a talk show host (his “Magic Hour” show was canceled after eight weeks).
In spite of these shortcomings, Magic found great success in various real estate endeavors, as well as ownership interests in MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, the latter of which would win a championship in 2016. Even though he was no longer playing, Magic was seemingly everywhere, flashing that million-megawatt smile along the way.
In February 2017, Lakers owner Jeannie Buss would ask Magic to come back and assist her efforts in restoring the team to its place among the NBA’s elite. The Lakers were on their way to missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year (which at the close of this season has now reached the sixth year). Magic would assume the role of President of Basketball Operations, along with newly installed agent turned general manager Rob Pelinka. What a task was awaiting them.
Magic’s signature moment during his tenure as Laker’s decision maker would have to be the signing of free agent superstar LeBron James in the summer of 2018. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the first year of the LeBron acquisition would end with another year outside of the playoffs, and a losing overall record. Not quite the outcome that LA fans were hoping for.
On April 9, 2019, Magic said enough was enough and stepped down as President of Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. While his love for the Lakers franchise is as strong as ever, he was unable to “be Magic.” During the impromptu press conference announcing his resignation, Magic referenced Philadelphia 76er Ben Simmons reaching out to him for guidance, and, due to working for the Lakers, him being unable to provide it. He also mentioned the rare 20-20-20 triple-double earned by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook last week, in which he finished with 20 or more points, assists, and rebounds. However, he was unable to congratulate Westbrook for fear of it being construed as tampering. In other words, while desperately wanting to help his beloved Lakers, he was restricted from helping others, thus keeping him from truly “being Magic.”
Magic certainly doesn’t need the money from the salary that came with being President of Basketball Operations, as he became fabulously wealthy both during and after his playing career. HBO Real Sports did a profile on Magic Johnson a couple of years after he joined the ownership group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise. Of all the employees interviewed, each of them shared their love for Magic. One concession stand worker told of how Magic hugged and thanked them before every game. Undoubtedly a rarity demonstrated by few.
In the end, Earvin Johnson decided that he wanted to resume being Magic Johnson. Although he never stopped, he was severely restricted from being the larger than life, lovable figure that the world has grown accustomed to. The kid from Lansing had made LA his new home, and playground. While helping his beloved Lakers was something he could not say no to in 2017, he decided in 2019 that saying no to being Magic was a gig he couldn’t give up.