Magic Johnson’s abrupt departure from the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office in April never was really explained all that well, with Johnson himself only saying that he wanted “to go back to being a businessman and helping the black community and the Latino community” and that he didn’t like being “handcuffed” by NBA anti-tampering rules that prevented him from talking about players on other teams.
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On Monday, however, Johnson spun an entirely different tale, mainly that he resented the “backstabbing” and “whispering” behind his back, and he pointed the finger directly at General Manager Rob Pelinka, who was hired by the Lakers at the same time Johnson assumed the team’s presidency.
When negotiating his job requirements with team controlling owner Jeanie Buss, Johnson said he made it clear to her that he still needed to deal with his other business interests and that he wanted final say on personnel decisions
“I told her: ‘Listen, I can’t give up all my businesses. I make more money doing that than becoming president of the Lakers, so you know that I’m going to be in and out. Is that okay with you?’ ” Johnson told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on “First Take.” “She said yes. I said, ‘Do I have the power to make decisions?’ because that was important for me to take the job, as well. She said, ‘You have the power to make the decisions.’ “
. @MagicJohnson tells @FirstTake exactly why he stepped down as president of the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/FwT6kCNG3y
— ESPN (@espn) May 20, 2019 His first year at the helm was “tremendous,” Johnson said Monday, as the team rearranged its roster to get under the salary cap and acquired draft picks, eventually landing LeBron James in free agency. But then the whispering campaign started
“And then I start hearing: ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office.’ So people around the Laker office were telling me Rob was saying things.”
“Rob Pelinka?” Smith asked
“Rob Pelinka,” Johnson responded. “And I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office enough. So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball. Now [it’s] not just in the Laker office anymore. Now it’s in the media and so on. Being in this business for over 40 years, I got allies, I got friends everywhere.”
Johnson added later that his only problem was with Pelinka, whom he said was trying to undercut him with the goal of assuming his job
“Just Rob,” Johnson said. “Other people didn’t bother me . . . What happened was I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore, especially when I got to work beside you, knowing that you want my position.”
The second and ultimately final source of Johnson’s discontent was the team’s indecision over whether to fire then-coach Luke Walton
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was, I wanted to fire Luke Walton, and we had — max — three meetings,” Johnson said. “I shouldered the things he did well and the things he didn’t do well. And I said: ’Listen, we gotta get a better coach. I like him, he’s great, former Laker, the whole thing.’ So the first day: ‘Let’s think about it.’ Second day: ‘Okay, you can fire him.’ Then the next day: ‘Well, we should try to work it out.’ So when we went back and forth like that, and then [Buss] brought [Lakers president of basketball operations] Tim Harris into the meeting . . . and Tim, he wanted to keep him, because he was friends with Luke. Luke’s a great guy. And so when I looked up I said: ‘Wait a minute, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss. Now I got Tim involved.’ And I said, ‘It’s time for me to go.’ “
Johnson said he had told Buss that he would take the job for only three years before turning it over to Pelinka. But everything blended together to the point where he wasn’t enjoying his role any more
“I got things happening that are being said behind my back,” he said on ESPN. “I don’t have the power that I thought I had to make the decisions. And I told them, ‘When it’s not fun for me, when I think that I don’t have the decision-making power that I thought I had, then I gotta step aside.’ “
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Matt Bonesteel Matt Bonesteel spent the first 17 years of his Washington Post career writing and editing. In 2014, Bonesteel pivoted from the newspaper to online and now he blogs for the Early Lead and other Web-based products owned by The Post. Follow
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