There is something intriguing about the life and times of Magic Johnson. As a player, coach and then President of Basketball, nothing is ever quiet and simple when he is around. Rather than focus on his brief time as the coach for the Lakers, which we can unpick a different time, let’s look at the ups and downs of his presidency and explore the reasons for his leaving the team as he did.
Johnson abruptly quit his post at Los Angeles Lakers in 2019. He claimed his reason for making this decision was his craving for a simple life. He was a wealthy businessman and a former player with a golden reputation. In short, he didn’t need the hassle that came with torrid times at the franchise and he wanted to have a little more fun.
Symbolic of these two years as the president at the club, he announced his resignation in front of reports 90 minutes before the Lakers’ final game of the season. This was the sixth consecutive losing season – and this too may have had something to with his leaving. Yet, to announce the resignation before telling the owner of the franchise, upstaging the team in their final game – it goes to show why no one may have felt it necessary to fight for him to stay.
Bored of being up in front of the board
Magic Johnson was used to being a commentator on the game. He was frustrated in the top offices, restrained by the need to be professional and to maintain expected rules of the NBA. He was constantly being investigated and fined by the NBA for making inappropriate comments that were said to be tampering with the game. He would often speak out on Twitter or speak to another team’s player – in what anyone would surely appreciate as an unofficial approach.
He was investigated for most things, not just Twitter posts. He also made a joke on Jimmy Kimmel’s show about Paul George that drew some attention and he was also challenged about a response to an email sent to him by Ben Simmons of Philadelphia.
To be fair, these issues put in perspective his desire for more fun. He doesn’t mean that he isn’t up for the responsibility. He just wants the opportunity to be himself – as outspoken as that might be. He was barred from mentoring Serena Williams by such an uproar – and when he speaks of fun he means this opportunity to be the mentor to a star of the future. He is signalling that he is undertaking work that doesn’t speak to him – rather wishing for a more frivolous existence.
Although Johnson has never confirmed this, many see his decision as linked to the future of Luke Walton who was soon to be replaced. Johnson’s desire for the firing of the coach was related to the poor run of the team and his inability to make the most of the star signing of LeBron James. However, Buss had a connection with Walton that Johnson didn’t feel he could stomp over.
Weirdly, Walton was replaced in early 2020, so if he had hung around this would have quickly stopped being an issue. Johnson’s only comment on this is that he did not want to press for a decision that would affect somebody’s livelihood and life. Again, this for Magic was another sign that he did not find this executive position as fun. It put him in the middle of a conflict, which complicated what he felt was previously a simple life.
Were there clues that this would happen?
Johnson has led a remarkable life that has been marked by his desire to live the best life. This sudden decision was just another chapter in an extraordinary life. He started out as the star point guard from Michigan and went on to win five NBA titles and three league MVO awards. He played for 12 years as the leader of the Lakers. His retirement after testing positive for HIV was a huge dip in the great man’s life but he was able to return briefly as a player and a coach.
So, was his decision linked to his health, as it was previously? The answer according to Johnson is no. His health is ideal and did not contribute to his decision. He argued he had pretty much done the job he wanted to do as President of Basketball at the Lakers. However, this is not necessarily true. When he was hired he promised to sign two free-agent superstars that would lead to the Lakers being contenders once more. He signed one – LeBron James. The rest of the work is still left to do – and his claim that young players are coming through sounds a little disingenuous.
But maybe we are being unfair. He did draft Lonzo Ball, helped in the acquisition of Kyle Kuzma and made the bargain signing of JaVale McGee – no small achievement. So, maybe he had made the contribution he promised. He equally cannot be held accountable for the injury that benched James for so long.
All this just suggests what we know already – that Magic Johnson does what he wants, what he thinks is best and will never apologise for what seems like erratic moves. In return, he gets what he deserves. So when Buss didn’t show up when he expected to address his resignation, instead, she posts a Tweet, he was getting a little of his own medicine.