LOS ANGELES (AP) – Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, citing his desire to return to the simpler life he enjoyed as a wealthy businessman and beloved former player before taking over this stormy franchise a little over two years ago.
Johnson did not tell owner Jeanie Buss or general manager Rob Pelinka about his shocking decision before announcing it to reporters about 90 minutes before the final game of the Lakers' sixth straight losing season.
Los Angeles, who are missing the NBA playoffs once again despite the addition of LeBron James in the offseason, played well after Johnson's announcement, but still lost 104-101 to Portland.
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"I want to have fun again," Johnson said, fighting back tears. "I want to be who I was before accepting this job, we're halfway with LeBron arriving (last summer). I think this summer, with that other star coming, whoever brings it, I think this team will really be in a position to compete for a championship with the growth of young players. "
Johnson did not directly relate his decision to Luke Walton's future, but the third-year coach was expected to be fired by Johnson. Without using names, Johnson repeatedly mentioned Buss's affinity for Walton, who was in place before Johnson got his job in February 2017, and Johnson's desire not to cause turmoil between the owner and his chosen coach.
"(On Wednesday) it would have to affect someone's livelihood and their life," Johnson said. "And I thought about it and said," That's not fun for me, that's not what I am. "And then I do not want to put her in our midst, although she said:" Hey, you can do what that you want & # 39;. I know that she has a great love for him and a great love for me ".
Johnson and Buss had a three-hour meeting on Monday about the direction of the 16-time NBA champion, Lakers, who has not made the postseason since 2013. Magic said he did not finalize his decision until Tuesday morning.
"Someone will have to tell my boss, because I know she's going to be sick," Johnson said. "But I knew I could not face her face to face and tell her."
Buss did not attend the end of the Lakers season, although Johnson waited in the executive parking area at the Staples Center hoping to see her. Buss tweeted his reaction at halftime.
"Earvin, I loved working next to you," Buss wrote. "You have brought us a long way, we will continue the journey, we love you."
Walton, who is 98-148 in three seasons, refused to say much about Johnson's announcement after the loss to Portland: "I found out when you did it, 80 minutes pbaded before the game … and I have not had any time to actually process it. "
Clearly blinded by Johnson's announcement, the Lakers also issued a team statement at halftime.
"There's no better Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson," he said. "We are deeply grateful to Magic for everything he has done for our franchise as a player, ambbadador and executive … He will always be an icon of the Lakers, but our family." As we begin the moving forward process, we will work in a measured manner. and methodical to make the right moves for the future of our organization. "
Johnson's desire for his old life was not the only reason for his departure. He also said he is tired of being investigated or fined by the NBA for manipulating him when he comments on basketball on Twitter or even talks to a player from another organization.
Johnson, a former presenter and respected basketball player before moving to the main office, has been investigated four times for manipulation after all, from a playful remark about Paul George on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show to his response to a email sent to you by Ben Simmons, of Philadelphia. .
"I thought about Dwyane Wade's retirement (on Wednesday), and I can not even tweet that or be there," Johnson said. "Serena Williams called me a week ago and said:" Will you advise me and be on my advisory board? "And I said:" Yes, I'm going to do that. "So when Ben Simmons called and reviewed the appropriate channels and made me look like the bad guy out of that situation, but I did not do anything wrong … I was thinking about all those moments, all those guys that want me to mentor them or be part of of their lives, and I can not even do that, I had more fun on the other side. "
Johnson, who turns 60 in August, also has many thriving business interests, along with ownership interests in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles FC.
Johnson's sudden decision ends another chapter in the extraordinary life of the star point guard from Lansing, Michigan, who won an NCAA championship in the state of Michigan before claiming five NBA titles and three MVP awards in the league. during his 12-year career as a Showtime Lakers leader.
Johnson retired in 1991 after he tested positive for HIV, but then returned briefly to the Lakers as a player and coach. Johnson says that his current state of health is ideal, and insists that no health concern was part of his decision to leave the job that seemed to be his final destination.
Johnson was hired along with Pelinka when Buss fired his brother, Jim and general manager Mitch Kupchak just 26 months ago. The father of the Buss children, Jerry, had pictured Johnson in a powerful role in the Lakers' front office, and Jeanie put Magic in charge of shaking his declining historical franchise.
Immediately after taking the job, Johnson declared his plan to get at least two free-agent superstars to return the Lakers to the immediate title race. That plan irritated the league's feelings and got him into trouble when he publicly acknowledged the Lakers' interest in George, which led to an investigation that ultimately imposed a $ 500,000 fine on the Lakers for Pelinka to make inappropriate contact with the Lakers. George's agent.
Johnson made several staff moves to free up salary cap space for his ultimate goal, particularly guard D & # 39; Angelo Russell to Brooklyn in large part to free the Lakers from the onerous contract of Timofey Mozgov in 2017.
Johnson also criticized Russell for his maturity and style of play going out the door, but Russell has become an All-Star leader for the playoff-bound Nets. Some of Johnson's other moves have worked much better, including the recruitment of the Lonzo Ball Lakers, the acquisition of Kyle Kuzma and the bargain-bargain of center JaVale McGee.
And although James was in charge of his decision to join the Lakers last summer, LeBron credited Magic for closing the deal at a meeting before accepting a four-year contract.
But after James forced his groin on Christmas and then was left out for the longest injury of his 16-year NBA career, the Lakers could not compile enough mid-season victories to stay in the playoff race. The Lakers also collapsed before the trade deadline when Johnson aggressively pursued superstar Anthony Davis, an opponent, in an exchange that would have required the Lakers to abandon much of their talented young core.
James was closed for the season late last month, and saw the season finale of the Lakers in street clothes at the bank. It was not available to reporters after the game.
The Lakers have missed the postseason in each of their three springs since Johnson and Pelinka took control, and Magic did not stay long enough to see if his plan would lead to another star of free agency this summer, when Tastes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant should be at stake, or later, when Davis should be available.
The Lakers compiled their best record in six years this season, but were eliminated from the playoff contest by the Russells' Nets on March 22. Los Angeles had never missed the playoffs in more than two consecutive seasons before this six-year drought.
Johnson continued to publicly support Walton, but it was known that Magic also agreed with Walton's detractors who are not impressed by his planning of offensive games and rotations. Johnson's decision to resign probably means the Lakers will not make a decision about Walton's future until a new central office is established.
Johnson and Pelinka, Kobe Bryant's former agent, did not know each other before Buss matched them, but Johnson said he worked well with Pelinka. Johnson also deliberately refused to say whether Pelinka should remain the general manager of the Lakers, and said the decision rested solely with Buss, whom he repeatedly called "my sister."
"She does not know I'm here," Johnson said. "Because I knew I would be crying like a baby in front of her."