Magic Johnson did the Lakers -- and himself -- a favor by stepping down
Being president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers is a great job, a dream job for hoops addicts.
But it can’t beat the great job and dream life of simply being Magic Johnson.
Being Magic comes much, much easier for Johnson. He’s a natural at the role, having perfected it since leading Michigan State to the NCAA title against Larry Bird and Indiana State 40 years ago.
Few existences are as charmed. Johnson went from college star, to Los Angeles Lakers legend, to international celebrity, to wildly successful entrepreneur, all while using his megawatt smile and electric personality to inspire and uplift those he met.
By comparison, running the Lakers’ front office is pure drudgery.
Besides that, he wasn’t very good in two years on the job as the team’s playoff drought reached six seasons.
With no possibility for a graceful exit, he opted for full-bore inelegance, abruptly announcing his resignation after coach Luke Walton’s pregame news conference Tuesday at Staples Center.
“Today, I’m going to step down as the president,” Johnson said.
It isn’t quite the bombshell we received in 1991, when he announced his retirement after testing positive for HIV. But the shock value is virtually identical due to the total lack of forewarning and his public love affair with the franchise.
“There is no greater Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson,” the team said in a statement after Johnson’s impromptu new conference. “We are deeply grateful to Magic for all that he has done for our franchise as a player, an ambassador and an executive.”
Johnson’s biggest achievement in that last category, undoubtedly, was signing LeBron James.
Of course, you and I probably could’ve done that, too, using Hollywood as bait. As a budding media mogul, James wanted to be in Los Angeles for the zip code as much as anything else. And the Lakers remain NBA royalty, even as their brand has dulled.
So, getting James under contract was the easy part.
The heavy lifting involved building a team around him, and that was the task that proved too strenuous for Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. They must’ve really thought James could win with anyone even non-shooters! which helps explain the signings of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee.
But if Johnson let the Lakers down as an executive, he added insult to injury with his final act as an employee.
He used the assembled media to inform the world of his resignation before letting his boss, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, know about his decision. That’s an inexcusable breach of professional courtesy and decorum. She took a chance on him two years ago, with no evidence he’d be any good, and she deserved to learn about his departure personally.
Apparently, one of the joys and privileges of being Magic Johnson is the freedom to ignore standard business etiquette. Besides failing to inform his direct supervisor, he leaves the franchise in a leaderless lurch as it prepares for a crucial offseason.
It’s fair to say he quit on his team, which is viewed as a pejorative expression. However, there’s something to be said for realizing you’re unhappy and taking steps to change it. There’s no getting around the fact that he handled his departure poorly. But whether he “owed” it to James, Buss and/or the franchise to stick around longer is debatable.
In fact, you could argue that Johnson has done the Lakers a favor, removing himself as an absentee executive whose heart wasn’t in the job.
Now the team is free to hire a bona fide team president who understands and embraces the role’s unglamorous aspects, someone who isn’t hindered by rules on tampering, restrictions on tweeting and a rumor mill that never ceases to churn.
“What the ... what am I doing?” Johnson said in explaining his epiphany. “I got a beautiful life. I’m going back to that beautiful life. I’m looking forward to it.”
No more responsibility to deal with agents, players and second-guessing sportswriters. No more expectations to scour game footage and embark on scouting trips. No more pressure to be Earvin instead of Magic.
Some observers believed this was a bad idea from the start. Few top players have been equally successful in transitioning to the front office. Two who come to mind Bird and Jerry West are much more comfortable behind the scenes than Johnson ever will be.
They live and breathe basketball. Conversely, Johnson is consumed with being himself and running Magic Johnson Enterprises (an investment conglomerate valued at an estimated $1 billion).
Nice work if you can get it.
Johnson gets it.
⦁ Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.