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Magic Johnson denies abusing Lakers employees, responds to ESPN report

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Magic Johnson disputed the way he was characterized in the ESPN story from Tuesday morning, particularly the allegations of the way he treated employees while working for the Lakers.

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On Tuesday morning, Baxter Holmes of ESPN dropped a story detailing the dysfunction behind the scenes with the Los Angeles Lakers. No one came away looking good, with Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss and just about everyone else having flaws in the way they operate exposed for the world to read about.

But the most explosive allegation was concerning Johnson, whom Holmes reported berated a longtime employee to the point that she “began to cry” and “in the months ahead, she would suffer increased anxiety and panic attacks. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, quit the Lakers after more than two decades with the team, and began several weeks of therapy.”

Johnson responded to that, as well as Holmes reporting that the Lakers turned over 37.5 percent of their staff during his tenure, and just about everything else said about him in the report during a lengthy statement to start ESPN’s “SportsCenter” special about the NBA Finals.

Here are his remarks in full:

“I’ve been in business for 35 years. I’ve had partnerships with some of the biggest companies, Fortune 500 companies, in the country. I’ve never sat in an HR person’s office in 35 years. Two years with the Lakers, no HR appearance. Do you think Jeanie Buss would allow me to abuse employees? If that was the case she would have called me in. (The lawyers would have called me in). It never happened. I’m a person who brings everybody together and uplifts the employees. I’ve never abused an employee, and I never will. That’s not what I’m all about.

“Now, Rich Paul had access to the Lakers because he had two clients with the Lakers. He called and said ‘hey I’m in Brooklyn,’ we talked about allowing him to fly back with the team. That’s the only time he flew with the team, because he was in Brooklyn and I allowed him to do that. That was on me, I allowed him to do that.

“Then, let’s go to Rob and I. When we were there, we worked well together, but the little things that were going on behind the scenes? That bothered me.

“And last but not least. Lazy? I have built a $600 million business. You cannot be lazy to go from playing basketball and winning five championships (to that). So I wasn’t lazy as a player, and I’m not lazy as a CEO and a business owner. That’s never gonna happen. I was brought up in Lansing, Michigan. My father worked for General Motors for 30 years, never missed a day, never was late. Do you think he was going to allow me, with six sisters and three brothers, to be lazy? Not a chance. Nah.

“Last but not least. I worked for ESPN on two different, separate occasions. Over a total of eight years. Worked with that man right there (points to Mike Wilbon). Why didn’t (Holmes) ask every ESPN employee ‘Did I ever abuse them?’ Never happened. We worked well together... I’m a guy that will tell you the truth. Now, a lot of Laker employees didn’t like that I held them accountable. That’s what my job was. Did I have to fire some people? Yes, because we had to bring about change and get better. And I think we got a great staff. I will say this right now, the Lakers have a great staff.

“What’s got to happen now, is we’ve got to get out of the news. I’m really upset that I’m sitting here talking about (this report), because I should be talking about Steph, Klay, Draymond, you know? Kawhi. That’s what I want to be talking about, and I think today will be my last day, until July, when I come on ‘First Take,’ because I want to thank you for allowing me to come and tell my truth on ‘First Take,’ and I’m gonna come back and talk about what happened in the offseason. That’s the next time I’m going to talk about the Lakers. In July.”

The man on a national TV show talking about how the Lakers need to get out of the news just a week after he flamed them on a different show on the same channel is sort of rich, but not totally unexpected. That’s just a microcosm of the Johnson era with the Lakers, and the fallout from it. No one wants to take the blame for anything, when everyone probably deserves a healthy portion.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.