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Magic Johnson’s time with the Los Angeles Lakers is done.
Johnson abruptly stepped down as the organization’s president of basketball operations on Tuesday night, less than two hours before the Lakers’ regular-season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center.
“I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and the ambassador to everybody,” Johnson said.
The 59-year-old said he officially made up his mind on Tuesday to step down, but that a lot of factors went into the decision.
Johnson said that the rules regarding tampering in the NBA was a big issue for him. One example he gave during his announcement was that he couldn’t congratulate Russell Westbrook when he dropped 20-20-20 last week, or that he couldn’t congratulate Dwyane Wade publicly in his home finale.
“That was a great feat the other day, and I couldn’t even tweet it out and say, ‘Hey, congratulations man,’” Johnson said. “If I had did that, everybody would have been, ‘Oh he’s tampering!’ I don’t like that. I like to be free.
“I got a great life. I was like, ‘Damn I have a great life outside of this. What am I doing? You know, I have a beautiful life.’
“I’m going to go back to that beautiful life. I’m looking forward to it.”
Johnson, who played 13 seasons for the Lakers, was hired as the president of basketball operations in February 2017.
Johnson hasn’t told Jeanie Buss about his decision
Johnson said during the news conference that he hadn’t yet told his boss, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, of his decision to step down.
He also said he met with Buss on Monday, where the two held a three-hour meeting about the future of the organization. Johnson said if he would have told her in person, he would have been “crying like a baby in front of her.”
Johnson also said later that he was informed that Buss did not attend the game on Tuesday night.
“Somebody going to have to tell my boss,” Johnson said. “I know she’s going to be sick, but I knew I couldn’t face her face-to-face and tell her, even though I was just with her yesterday.”
Magic said he had multiple conversations with people within the organization about the future of the organization, including Buss, while fully knowing that he isn’t going to be there, too.
Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka also visited with LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul, on Saturday, but did not mention that he was about to step down, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Johnson also said his decision wasn’t about coach Luke Walton, who many expected would be fired by Johnson at the end of the season. Johnson and Walton reportedly haven’t spoken in weeks, either.
“I think Luke is a good man. I like Luke a lot,” Johnson said. “So what, we have different opinions about different things. That’s OK. That happens in life. But my concern is really my relationship with my sister, and that’s Jeanie Buss. That’s all I care about. All the rest of the stuff don’t really matter.”
Jeanie Buss responds
Buss responded publicly on Twitter on Wednesday night, shortly after releasing a statement thanking Johnson for his work with the organization.
“There is no greater Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson,” Buss said in the statement. “We are deeply grateful to Magic for all that he has done for our franchise — as a player, an ambassador and an executive.
“We thank him for his work these past two years as our President of Basketball Operations and wish him, Cookie, Andre, EJ and Elisa all the best with their next steps. He will always be not only a Lakers icon, but our family.
“As we begin the process of moving forward, we will work in a measured and methodical fashion to make the right moves for the future of our organization.”
The future of the Lakers
Johnson was asked about the future of the Lakers and whether he thinks Pelinka should remain the general manager and Walton should remain the coach. He put that decision squarely on Buss’ shoulders.
He did, though, sound like he wasn’t prepared to fire Walton even if Buss wanted him gone.
“I would have to affect someone's livelihood and their life. And I thought about that. That's not fun for me,” Johnson said. “That's not who I am. And then I don't want to put [Jeanie] in the middle of us, even though she said, 'Hey, you do what you want to do.' I know she has great love for [Walton]. And great love for me. I want to go back to having fun.”
The Lakers currently hold a 37-44 record, just slightly better than the team’s record last season under Johnson. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2013.
Even though the front office is now in chaos, Johnson believes the Lakers have a real chance to be a championship-caliber organization.
“I’m happy about the direction,” Johnson said. “If the young guys mature the way we feel they can mature, I think that this team will be outstanding, especially if we add one superstar to this bunch that we already have.”
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