Hoops circles are still “shook” over Magic Johnson’s abrupt resignation as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations the other day. Nobody, not even franchise owner Jeanie Buss (whom he referred to repeatedly in his impromptu press conference as his “sister”), knew that he was going to abandon the position he had occupied since February 2017. From his vantage point, he needed to hang up his suit and tie in order to “be Magic Johnson again;” he felt the National Basketball Association provisions governing executives prevented him from expressing his thoughts the way he wanted to, and exactly when he wanted to.
Not that Johnson was pressured to leave. In fact, he continued to have Buss’ implicit trust and confidence, and to the point of allowing him to decide on the fate of head coach Luke Walton despite her close ties to the latter. Never mind that his front-office record could be termed spotty at best; the Lakers’ win-loss slate during his tenure was fifth-worst in the West. More tellingly, he followed up his acquisition of LeBron James in the 2018 offseason with incongruous free-agent pickups. Forget the public pronouncements of satisfaction in sticking to plan; given his pledge to bring in the stars, he himself could not have been pleased.
Not coincidentally, Johnson said he would step down if he proved unable to lead the Lakers to glory in two years. As things turned out, he gave up after one. The development is stunning in light of the power he wielded, but likewise indicative of his predilections. By all accounts, he had too many ventures that required his attention, leading him to neglect the one for which he was most in the spotlight. And, true to form, he was sensitive to the constant barrage of criticism that reached his ears. Admittedly, the partisan, and often unfair, perspectives stood in stark contract to the beloved figure he cut as ambassador of the sport.
Still, Johnson had a responsibility to the Lakers, and suddenly abandoning it without so much as a proper by your leave cannot but be seen as a betrayal to his proclaimed family. He may well be right in saying he’s now in better position to be himself. In doing what he did, though, he likewise made the purple and gold worse off. No doubt, they’ll pick up the pieces and move on. But when? And how? Those questions aren’t his to address anymore. He doesn’t care to now, and, evidently, he didn’t care to then as well.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.