When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Magic Johnson out of the Michigan State in 1979, the franchise was in a down period, relatively speaking. It had been seven years since their last NBA Finals appearance, an eternity for a franchise that made the Finals in 60% of the previous 25 seasons. Magic restored the luster of the Lakers as the franchise made the Finals nine of the next 12 years. Magic, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan helped lift the entire NBA from the days of the Finals broadcast on tape-delay to today where the average team is worth $1.36 billion.
NBA legend Magic Johnson will now call the shots on the future of the Lakers roster. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Johnson returned to the Lakers earlier this month as an advisor to Buss, who is president of the team and runs the business side. Today, Buss cleaned house and installed Johnson as president of basketball operations. Longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and Buss’ brother, Jim, who was in charge of basketball operations, were both ousted with Johnson taking control. Also caught in the crossfire: publicist John Black who was with the team for 27 years. Jim Buss will remain an owner in the team.
“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect," said Jeanie Buss in a statement Tuesday. "Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order.”
Johnson’s task ahead of him might be harder than when he rescued the NBA as a revolutionary 6-foot-9-inch point guard nearly four decades ago. The past two years have been the worst in franchise history on the court with the team losing 77% of their games. The team has the third worst record in the NBA this season, which is headed once again to be among the worst in franchise history. The front office has been criticized over the past 24 hours for reportedly turning downing a trade for second-team All-NBA center Boogie Cousins, who was subsequently dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans. The NBA trade deadline is 48 hours away.
"It's a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family," Johnson said in a statement. "Since 1979, I've been a part of the Laker Nation and I'm passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions."
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
In addition to his role with the Lakers, Johnson is a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. Johnson has also been working on a limited basis since January on ESPN's NBA Countdown show.
Johnson retired from the NBA in 1996 and built a business empire that has partnered with Starbucks, Burger King, 24 Hour Fitness, Aon, Aetna, Sodexho and more over the past two decades. He ranked No. 10 last year with annual earnings of $18 million in Forbes' look at the world's highest-paid retired athletes.
Jerry Buss arrived in the NBA the same year as Johnson. He paid $67.5 mill for the Lakers, NHL's Los Angeles Kings, The Forum and a 13,000-acre ranch in 1979. He died in 2013 and majority control of the team was placed in a trust controlled by his children. Johnson owned 4% of the team after his playing days, although he sold the stake to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2010.
The Lakers are the second most valuable NBA team, worth $3 billion. The Buss family built a massively successful franchise with star players attracted to the L.A. market. The Lakers' 16 NBA titles are one behind the Boston Celtics for most all-time. Courtside seats at Staples Center cost $2,750 and the team inked a $5 billion local cable deal with Time Warner Cable. But since Dr. Buss passed away the Lakers have lost their luster as free agents eschewed the bright lights of Hollywood and their neighbors to the north, the Golden State Warriors, became the NBA's new glamor franchise. The future of that $3 billion asset now sits on Johnson's shoulders.