The public perception of Earvin “Magic” Johnson has changed drastically, at least in some circles. Following Johnson’s abrupt and arguably unprofessional exit from the Lakers in April, Baxter Holmes of ESPN released a story on what working with Johnson was like, and it didn’t paint him in a favorable light, to say the least.
Johnson was quick to deny allegations of abuse while making an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Tuesday, saying that he has never been called into an HR office in the 35 years he’s been a business owner. While that may be true, it’s not as simple as that, according Holmes.
Shortly after Johnson’s appearance on SportsCenter, Holmes got the opportunity to defend his reporting, and he said that Lakers employees told him they were afraid to go to HR about Johnson out of fear of losing their jobs:
“The first thing that comes to mind for me, is a comment from a staffer made regarding the day that Earvin was hired. And this staffer said ‘I feel like the building would have to burn down for him (Johnson) to lose his job,’ and it was this staffer’s way of describing the power, the stature and the deep ties that Earvin has to the Lakers.
“And other staffers would tell me this, too, that they feared even going to human resources, and this was mentioned in the article, for fear that standing up to him would do nothing. It would mean nothing. And so him saying that he was never called into HR’s office, no complaints were filed, I understand that because I heard several employees describe how much they feared even taking it to that level, and what might happen to them if they did so.”
In a later appearance on ESPN’s “The Lowe Post,” Holmes also outlined how deep his reporting was, as well as sharing more on what his sources were telling him about what it was like to work for Johnson:
”I talked to more than two dozen people in and around the organization and close to the team, but they would describe this duality to him, this “Earvin” and this “Magic.” People would talk about everybody being pins and needles around him, everybody is on edge. I think somebody said to me at some point ‘you’re never in a conversation with him where you don’t feel like he’s threatening you, or your job, and questioning you.’
“On top of all that, there was this overall, overarching — again, based on my reporting — this division between Rob and Earvin, and everybody else. And (a mentality of) ‘you’re either with us, or your against us.’ The notion about him saying ‘we don’t make mistakes,’ staffers found that particular comment funny given that he would go on TV and make these remarks that would trigger tampering investigations and cost the team a significant amount of money.”
Other sources also shared even more stories about Johnson that either didn’t make the story, or were only shared after it was published:
“There were other interactions with staffers that were described to me as berating that didn’t make the story. I also heard from people yesterday who had interacted with him. I won’t go two deep into this, but they just said ‘that dual side to him is very real.’ And there would be silence after that. So I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground about my reporting there.”
Now, it’s not our job to say who’s telling the truth and who’s not, but allegations of this nature don’t get published without extensive vetting from editors, and probably ESPN’s legal team as well. There is a reason this story has been rumored since the day Johnson stepped down but didn’t come out until over a month later. When stuff like this is leaking out, it’s clear there are at least a few people that worked there, or still work there, that felt that way.
That alone is reason for concern, and would seem to require at least an apology from Johnson.
Instead, Johnson deflected almost all accountability and expressed no regret for the way he went about his business during his time with the Lakers, which has been his modus operandi since leaving the organization. For the guy that’s ranked fifth all-time for assists in the NBA, he’s acted pretty selfishly as of late.