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The season of tumult surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers hit yet another new height Tuesday with the bombshell exposé from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes further shedding light on the dysfunction of the Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka era.
In addition to stories about Pelinka being labeled as a pathological liar and Linda Rambis acting as a “shadow owner” to influence the decisions of controlling owner and friend Jeanie Buss, the piece cited multiple sources describing Johnson as a “fear monger” who allegedly fostered a working environment that led to two employees having panic attacks that required medication and therapy for one of them.
Magic Johnson defends himself
Johnson appeared on ESPN Tuesday afternoon for a previously scheduled appearance on an NBA Finals preview special with network personalities Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon.
Before getting on with the business of talking Warriors and Raptors, Johnson was compelled to defend himself. Sitting alongside two of the biggest Magic Johnson cheerleaders in sports media, he did so against a report that came from the very same network’s internet arm.
Magic Johnson's response to the reports that came out this morning: pic.twitter.com/YyzfuE2xE0
— Chris Montano (@gswchris) May 28, 2019
Magic: ‘I’ve never abused an employee’
“I’ve never sat in an HR person’s office in 35 years,” Johnson said. “Two years with the Lakers, no HR appearance. Do you think Jeannie Buss would allow me to abuse the employees?
“It never happened. I’m a person who brings everybody together, uplifts the employees. I’ve never abused an employee. I never will. That’s not what I’m all about.”
Johnson talks Rich Paul
Johnson also addressed the report that LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul had significant influence on the running of the team and that his appearance on team flights created discord among coaches and players who believed he was maneuvering to have them removed.
Johnson explained that Paul had access to the team because he represents two Lakers players — James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — and that he green-lit Paul to fly back with the team from Brooklyn, but just on one occasion.
Magic: Don’t call me lazy
He also addressed reports that he was not active in his role a president of basketball operations and insinuations that he was lazy.
“I have built a $600 million business,” Johnson said. “You cannot be lazy going from playing basketball and winning five championships. So I wasn’t lazy as a player, and I’m not lazy as a CEO and a business owner.”
Hiatus from Lakers talk
Citing a desire to get the Lakers out of the news cycle, Johnson promised that Tuesday was the last time he would talk about the Lakers until a scheduled July appearance to discuss offseason moves on Smith’s morning show “First Take,” the same platform he used to rip Pelinka with his own Lakers exposé last week.
But before embarking on his Lakers-talk hiatus, he once again focused on the accusations that he mistreated employees, an assertion that defies his image as affable, gregarious and a genuinely nice guy. He acknowledged that there were tensions at times among employees, but that it was part of his doing his job.
‘OK if you wanna try and lie about Magic’
“I’m a guy that will tell you the truth,” Johnson said. “A lot of Lakers employees didn’t like that I held them accountable. That’s what my job was. Did I have to fire some people? Yes. Because we had to bring about change to get better.
“Nobody has every called me and said ‘Magic mistreated an employee.’ Ever. And that will never happen. ... It’s OK if you wanna try and lie on Magic. Go ahead. But I know the truth. Jeannie knows the truth. If I had disrespected somebody, she would have called me in the office.
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