By Mark A. Upaa
On Tuesday night Erving ‘Magic’ Johnson stepped down as the president of basketball operations with the Los Angeles Lakers. A job magic seemed to have been born to do. Magic has been a part of the LA Lakers in one capacity or the other spanning 40 years, from when the team drafted him number 1 out of college in 1979. To winning 5 championships with the Lakers in the 1980’s, to coaching the team twice, in 1994 and again in 1996. To owning a 4% stake in the Lakers and working for the team in as an ambassodor-at-large, closely with then team owner and basketball legend Jerry Buss and after his death, with his daughter and current Lakers majority owner Jeanie Buss.
Magic took the mantle of ‘team president of basketball operation’ just over 2 years ago, with a mandate of returning the franchise to its glory days of the 80’s and 90’s, a period which saw the team win 8 championships in a 20 year span. He had seemed to be on the right trajectory, after securing the services of LeBron James (arguably the NBA’s biggest star) in 2018. But injuries, poor player selection, internal wranglings and ultimately unrealistic expectations may have been the nails firmly sealing the coffin of this iteration of Magic’s relationship with the storied franchise. His leaving the Lakers now, when they havent made the post-season playoff’s in 6 consecutive years (a team record nobody wants), with a group of players, though headlined by LeBron but comprising practically nobody else of real value is possibly a new lowest-point, for a once proud sports franchise and it’s long suffering fan base.
Magic Johnson, had routinly juggled several balls at the same time during his long, illustrious career: family, a far-reaching business empire worth an estimated $700 million, charity work including HIV activism, being a spokesman for the NBA on some issues, and much more. So much so, that he could never fully commit to being the Lakers’ fully hands-on president of basketball operations, not in the way needed to do the job required to get the results desired. Sources within the Lakers organization had described Magic’s leadership style as; Magic tendeds to “parachute in” for a few days a month at the office, throw down a lot of edicts, then leave it for others to clean up the mess. And maybe he has finally come to the realization he wasn’t doing the job well and most importanly, he wasn’t happy doing it.
In his impromptu, rambling, emotional and at times tear-filled 40-minute press conference before the Lakers final game of the season, Magic stepped down as the Lakers president of basketball operations. He told the assembled media before he even told team owner and his good friend Jeanie Buss, bringing to an abrupt end a ‘magical’ relationship that had weathered many storms, but proved to be just as suseptible to the most vibrant cancer in all of sports. A malady that the Laker’s great seemed ill-equiped to handle, the simple truth of modern day professional sports; if you are not winning, then you are expendable. Who is going to lead the Lakers into a crucial offseason and set a direction as they try to land another superstar and build a roster around LeBron James? Do the Lakers get a new president of basketball operations?
Jeanie Buss, famously fired her own brother and long-time Laker loyalist Mitch Kupchak in her zeal to return the Lakers to the submit of the NBA landscape (some say she did it as a pre-condition to Magic taking the president of basketball operations in the first place). she then gave herself a 4 year window to return the franchise to the post-season. Well Jeanie, 2 years have just come to an ingloriouse end. It turns out that Magic could’nt transfer his ‘Lakers’ genes or even re-build a winning organizational culture. Now the burden falls back on you, to find someone else to right this Lakers’ rudderless and badly lisping ship.