During his appearance on ESPN’s First Take, Magic Johnson offered up dirt on Rob Pelinka that has dominated the news cycle since, but as he is wont to do, he wandered around a few topics, never really holding back when discussing any of them.
When Johnson was asked about Lakers ownership, he went just far enough to make one wonder if he wasn’t tipping his hand with a potential endgame in mind:
”If the Lakers were up for sale tomorrow, I’d be running up to Jeanie and saying ‘let me buy them.’ And listen, the list would be long. And of course Kobe would want to buy them. And if LeBron was not a player, or (if he was) out of the league, he would want to buy them.
“Listen, it’s a gold mine. The Lakers are a gold mine. Even with us not making the playoffs, do you know we’ve sold out every single season? We were up 31 percent in viewership with LeBron. We were still the No. 1 in selling jerseys this season, so it’s a gold mine.”
Max Kellerman then pushed the point a little further, even going so far as to wonder if some are positioning themselves for such a sale. Johnson said it makes sense that people would be interested:
”Listen, I would be too. The Lakers are still the premier team in the NBA. The organization is still incredible. We’re No. 1 in social media, all those type of things. People love the Lakers around the world, not just here in the United States.”
So, does Johnson want Jeanie Buss and her siblings to sell?
”I never, ever wanted Jeanie to sell. And now I’m emotional because of the dad (Jerry Buss)... He was like a father figure to me, and so because of that I would say don’t sell.
“Now, have things changed with all these super billionaires coming into the league? Yes, things are changing. I don’t know if she’s ever going to sell, and if she decides to sell, it’ll go for a lot of money, and I’ll be knocking on her door, probably Kobe and I, 1a and 1b (laughs).”
Did.... Did Magic Johnson just call Jeanie Buss (relatively) broke? (I’m kidding, I’m kidding — kind of).
Johnson is right, though. Yes, the Lakers generate revenue in ways other franchises dream of. But the advantage gained from that is mitigated when the owners of those others teams have exponentially deeper pockets, and thus can put up more capital for their team.
Take the Clippers, for example. They’ll never come close to the revenue the Lakers generate, but Ballmer is worth so much money that can continue to reinvest in his team nonetheless. It might not have mattered how much it cost to bring back a front office that was on the verge of being heavily poached. Mike Winger, Trent Redden and Jerry West are all back with the Clippers, and one explanation might be that Ballmer just offered too much for them to leave.
Compare that to a Lakers team that was unwilling to offer a contract beyond three years to Ty Lue for fear of dead money when LeBron James moved on via free agency or retirement at the end of his deal — allowing for the possibility that they may want a new coach at the point — and one that instead opted to dissolve Johnson’s previous position rather than spend the salary on a replacement and, well, Jeanie Buss might be making Magic’s point about the scale of fortunes in ownership for him.
It’s also somewhat worth wondering about how the Buss siblings haven’t relayed the earning potential with the Lakers into larger personal fortunes outside of the franchise. The Buss family is obviously hugely successful as a whole, but it’s kind of odd they haven’t amassed more personal wealth given the opportunities the Lakers present and the people ownership of the Lakers offers them access to.
No matter what else might be going on, this about as close as someone will get to openly positioning themselves to one day purchase a professional franchise — especially Johnson says he’s so emotionally invested both in terms of his time as a part of it, and in terms of the people currently residing atop the ladder.
Johnson’s points were made so candidly here that it’s also fair to wonder whether he set out to torch the Lakers with eventual ownership in mind. Nothing wrecks evaluation sheets of franchises quite like all-time greats accusing those in charge of the organization of backstabbing and outright ineptitude, factors that can also ratchet up public pressure to sell the team. There is the possibility that Johnson’s motivations weren’t so far-reaching, but it’s at least worth considering as a possibility.
Whether that’s the case or not, should the Buss family decide to sell and Johnson wind up a part of the new ownership group, this will be fascinating to look back on.