Despite some skepticism over their signings since, Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers landing LeBron James in NBA free agency this summer inarguably validated the plaudits of this front office as recruiters.
That was always what Johnson was pitched as, and in his first real at bat, he called his shot and hit a home run by convincing James to don the purple and gold armor.
However, according to Johnson, his strategy wasn’t a wholly original one. He had seen his mentor, former Lakers owner Jerry Buss, do the same thing countless times with himself, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Johnson just wanted to show he could also lure the universe’s best basketball player:
Magic Johnson is discussing his pursuit of LeBron James on a conference call w/ reporters."Dr. Buss was the ultimate closer and I was trying to steal a page out of his book and bring the greatest player in the world to the Lakers."— Bill Oram (@billoram) July 13, 2018
And just like Buss would often consult Johnson, and the Lakers would do the same during the tenures of Bryant and O’Neal, Johnson plans to forge a similar partnership with James that will allow the former Cavalier to help Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka assemble a team of players he feels can fit with him.
However, Johnson also wanted to make it clear during his conference call with the media that he is still the final say on all basketball matters:
Magic: "We're gonna go to LeBron and say hey if there's a deal to be made or a guy's available,'What do you think about this guy?'" That's how it was when he played w/ Jerry West and Dr. Buss. "The ultimate decision-maker ... is me."— Bill Oram (@billoram) July 13, 2018
Some will surely cry out about “GM LeBron” and the Cavaliers bloated cap sheet that arose from James leveraging his power to pick and choose his teammates during his last stint in Cleveland, but while Johnson is taking a stronger stance on his ultimate decision-making powers than the Cavaliers did or could, he also explained why he feels LeBron deserves to be collaborated with in such a way (outside of simply being the best player on the planet):
Magic: "LeBron is the greatest leader in sports."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) July 13, 2018
Say what you will about James, but where he leads, his teammates do always seem to follow, as well as the rest of the NBA when he takes stances on social issues. James hasn’t simply used his platform as basketball’s most talented player over the last few years to lord over the sport on the court, he’s also made thoughtful comments that have established him as a leader off of it.
Now that he’s brought both skills to the Lakers, it seems the team might finally have the player that Johnson — who led the Lakers out of some tougher times himself — believes can lead them back to the heights the team’s fans have grown accustomed to.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.