‘Tragic Magic’ Johnson? Los Angeles Lakers: Behind-The-Scenes Look at the Resignation That Shocked the Basketball World for the NBA’s Lost Franchise

When the fun disappears from the magician.  Photo courtesy: Mark J. Terrill / AP

By: Jonathan Eskin

I almost fell to the floor.

Magic Johnson departed my team — again. I remember this similar, sickening feeling, nearly 30 years ago. Dubbed, ‘The Announcement.’ I will never forget his statement at the press conference on Nov 7, 1991, when Magic stepped to the podium and said, “Because of the HIV virus that I have obtained, I will have to retire from the Lakers, today.”

I was in tears and my heart crushed.

By all accounts, we thought Magic’s time on earth was officially ticking and a perceived death sentence awaited the 5-time world champion. Back then, popular opinion deemed it was only a matter of time, before the HIV virus turned to full-blown AIDS. And once you had AIDS, you were basically dead.

The nauseous feeling returned on April 9, 2019 when Magic stood in front of a field of reporters and relieved his duties as President of Basketball Operations.  A press conference never to be forgotten either.

“I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and ambassador to everybody,” Johnson said. The unexpected announcement came when the stakes weren’t as high and the impact not as big, but the pain still took its toll.

Upon the passing of the late great owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, and the transition of the Kobe Bryant era, the Lakers were in perils. Magic couldn’t stand back and spectate any longer.

He became President of Basketball Operations on Feb 21, 2017. And then he went to work. Magic traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets, while unloading Timofey Mozgov’s ridiculous contract. He drafted U.C.L.A. star Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart.

In 2018, Magic traded for Isaiah Thomas from the Cleveland Cavaliers and bought out Luol Deng’s contract.

But, the most Magic of all moves was the off-season acquisition of LeBron “King” James.

The Lakers were immediately a playoff contender. Magic recruited him hard, showing up to his L.A. mansion one-hour before the scheduled meeting.

Together, Magic and General Manager, Rob Pelinka signed the future Hall-of-Famer, to a four-year max contract worth $154 million.

The Laker faithful went bananas.

Mimicking LeBron’s pre-game routine, they launched baby powder in mid-air, as a way of celebrating the monumental accomplishment. I loved every minute of it. The post-Kobe era officially begun. Back to our winning ways.

Changing the game: Laker fans react outside Staples Center to LBJ joining Lakers’ lure.

Furthermore, Magic helped sign several 1-year deals. He added guard Lance Stephenson ($4.4M), resigned guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($12M), guard Rajon Rondo ($9M) and center JaVale McGee (2.4M).

All things considered; I was content with this squad. Overall a job well done. I thought they’d fare well over the season and definitely make the playoffs. And if we just got one more big name, I could have seen LA holding a championship trophy.  Yes, that’s right.

A Rollercoaster Ride:

Nevertheless, Magic’s time in office was marked by the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

Here’s why. After struggling the first seven games, Magic calls a meeting with head coach Luke Walton. He is upset and stresses improved performance. The meeting goes public.

The Lakers are fined $500,000 by the NBA for Magic’s comments on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” attempting to recruit superstar forward Paul George.

Magic paid the league $50,000 for tampering Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s criticized for lack of shooters.  A major theme throughout the season.

Not all smiles: The half million dollar mistake Magic divulged that led to tampering.

Snake-bitten by Injuries:

LeBron strained his left groin. Bad. He heard a pop. On Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors. LeBron would return from the “Black Christmas” nightmare, taking the team to a 15-30 record.

However, injuries set the tone for the remainder of the season, totaling 64. Mild to worst-case scenario.

The damage had been done.

The club dropped seven places in the Western Conference. LeBron had never been on a team that was so torn by injuries.

He was hurt and so was I.

The Lakers were holding the 4th spot in the Western Conference and then the “pop” heard ’round the world happened.

The Laker brass attempt several moves before the trade deadline. Realizing the urgency to build around LeBron now.

They successfully trade their 2018 draft pick for Detroit’s Reggie Bullock, which included a 2021 second rounder to the deal. Hoping for improved shooting from the guard-forward.

And then Anthony Davis happened.

The superstar power forward-center drops a bombshell and asks for a trade.

A circus show ensues between the two clubs and turns into a fiasco. The Pelicans come out of the negotiations as unreasonable and Davis is fined $50,000 for the public request. A complete disaster.

The writing was on the wall when out of all teams, D’ Angelo Russell’s Brooklyn Nets, officially eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention. King James last time missing the playoffs was in 2005 and marked the sixth consecutive season the Lake Show would go fishing, early than expected. An enormous disappointment.

The fans were disgusted, as was I.

The purple and gold would go on to finish the season winning 37 games and losing 45. Placing 10th in the Western Conference. Two spots shy of a playoff berth to rivaled L.A. Clippers and 20 games back from defending champions, Golden State Warriors.

Magical Goodbye:

Then, comes Magic’s resignation. Although, under completely different circumstances.

In his press conference speech, Magic made it clear he missed having fun. But it was deeper than lost entertainment in La La land.

“What I didn’t like was the backstabbing and the whispering,” Magic said. “I didn’t like that. I didn’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.”

Reports have been Magic was alluding to an email exchange between President of the Lakers, Jeanie Buss, and General Manager Rob Pelinka, where she was evaluating his performance and disappointed in it.

Magic was blindly copied in the emails.

Moreover, he didn’t like being “handcuffed” by the tampering rules. Not being able to go on social media and tweet out praise ate at him. Lastly, he wanted to “preserve” the relationship with his good friend, Jeanie Buss, daughter of Magic’s mentor and former iconic owner, Jerry Buss. All in all, he wanted to be free.

“Magic resigning ultimately was a best-case scenario for both him and the Lakers organization,” Ron Gutterman said of Lakers Nation. “It became clear right around the trade deadline that he simply isn’t cut out for this job, and I believe that he figured it out right around the same time as well.”

The Lakers Nation reporter went on to say, “Him moving on when he did was the best move for his happiness as well as the future outlook of this franchise,” he said.

Lake Show Life reporter, Kenneth Teape, had a different take on it.

“The resignation of Magic Johnson was unexpected, to say the least. Not telling anyone of his plans was bizarre, leaving the organization in a state of flux,” said Teape. “Despite the tough spot it put everyone in, it was handled about as well as you could have expected.”

Teape continued, “No one wants to remain in a position they are not happy working in, so it is tough to blame Johnson for leaving.” “The manner in which he did it could have been better, but it is hard to fault someone for wanting to be happy,” he said.

His press conference sent shockwaves throughout the franchise.

LeBron’s Reaction:

LeBron’s chief of staff, Randy Mims, broke the news to him. LeBron said, “My right hand comes to me and says, ‘Magic just stepped down,’ James said on HBO’s The Shop.

LeBron didn’t mix words.

“I’m like, ‘Get the (expletive) out of my face. You (expletive).’  “I go check my phone, I look at it, the (expletive) happened,” he said.

“Personally for me, I came here to be a part of the Lakers organization, having a conversation with Magic.” “So it just was weird for him to just be like, ‘I’m out of here’ and not even have no like ‘hey ‘Bron, kiss my (expletive), I’m gone.” “It wasn’t even that,” LeBron said.

Furthermore, his boss, Jeanie Buss, wasn’t aware despite a three-hour meeting the day before.

In the dark: LeBron unloads regarding the abrupt resignation of Magic Johnson.
(Warning: explicit language)

“No one had no idea,” LeBron said. “We were like, ‘Damn, like right now?’ “It was literally 70 minutes on the clock before (game time).”

“I’m not playing, but my team is still playing, and you kind of decide to do that right here, right now,” he said.

LeBron didn’t hold back and said, “I feel like there’s a time and place for things, and I believe that you knew that you were going to make that decision, so why would you do it here and why would do it now?”

Lakers Resilience:

The Lakers generally know how to recover. Amid mutual parting of the ways with former head coach Luke Walton, the franchise endures five head coaching changes since 11-time championship coach, Phil Jackson, retired in 2011.

Losing is the pendulum of sports. You can’t be on top forever.

The 16-time champions are going through a complete makeover. Times are tough as a Laker fan.

Everyday a breaking story seems to come out of Laker land. The Laker management must get it right this time. LeBron is a diminishing asset.

He invested his future in Los Angeles. LeBron’s all in.

Nobody seems destined to resign from here on out. Too much at stake.

The fans will not take any more pain.

After all, I can’t go for the trifecta and have my heart broken, yet again.

The full interview of Magic Johnson’s resignation. 70 minutes prior to game time, as told by LeBron James.

See below for more articles by Jonathan Eskin:

Ice Cube Announces BIG3 Will Hoop ‘Every Weekend All Summer Long’

2019 NBA Draft Lottery. The Golden Ticket. Why the Lakers Need To Go For the Ping-Pong Balls

The Super Bowl Follow-Up: Dr. Jerry Buss Built The Real Dynasty

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