The penultimate night of the regular season set up to be a celebration of all that is great about actual NBA basketball, with seeding still to be decided in seven playoff matchups and two future Hall of Famers presumably playing the final home games of their decorated careers on the slate. And then Magic Johnson stole the show.
It was another reminder that the league is the greatest soap opera on television.
We knew this was the last we would see of Dwyane Wade in a Heat uniform in Miami, and we figured Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki was playing in front of the Dallas crowd for the final time. Three Eastern Conference teams were playing with the eighth seed on the line, and five teams out West were jockeying for playoff position.
What we didn’t know is that Magic would hold an impromptu press conference to abruptly resign as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, vacating one of the game’s most coveted jobs without ever discussing it with owner Jeanie Buss, general manager Rob Pelinka, coach Luke Walton or superstar LeBron James. He did so prior to a game that meant nothing to a franchise that had tanked to its final lottery resting place, while Wade and Nowitzki were submitting 30-point outings.
New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis had earlier tried to steal headlines from the players and teams that mattered on this night, wearing a “That’s All Folks!” shirt to remind us that this was the final game of his embarrassing season. Pels coach Alvin Gentry did well to slow Davis’ role, punctuating the drama that was his failed trade request: “I think he got some bad advice, if you want me to tell the truth.”
But Magic’s ghosting of the Lakers later succeeded in leading a jam-packed NBA news cycle. He could have quietly met with team brass to craft an exit strategy in the weeks before or after the finale of a throwaway season, but he chose this night to leave as dramatically as possible, sandwiching prolonged press conferences around an exclusive ESPN interview before ultimately exiting in search of Buss.
Magic stole the thunder from Wade on a day that highlighted his community service and a night when Barack Obama told the world, “You did us proud,” and from Nowitzki on an emotional evening that began with team employees lining the halls to greet him and ended with him officially declaring, “This is my last home game.”
The Lakers legend stole headlines from the NBA on a remarkable night of basketball that featured 39-year-old veteran Jamal Crawford becoming the oldest player to ever score 50 points before the slate’s final two games were capped by a pair of buzzer-beaters from Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George and Portland Trail Blazers that reshuffled the entire roadmap to the Western Conference finals.
This all somehow escaped Johnson, even as the man who brought Showtime to the NBA explained, “I thought about Dwyane Wade retiring tomorrow, and I can’t even tweet it out or can’t be there,” as if an all-timer’s last dance would not be complete without a Magic tweet. He went so far as to cite a desire to “tweet when I want” as a reason for stepping down, along with wanting to be an ambassador for the game.
Magic’s final tweets on Tuesday and his first on Wednesday made no mention of Wade or Nowitzki, for what it’s worth. If his idea of being an ambassador for the NBA is turning the focus from one of the season’s best nights of basketball to the soap opera stuff off the court, then he succeeded. Otherwise, Magic probably could have waited until it mattered to the league that he was announcing his Lakers exit.
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