Magic Johnson should be applauded, not ridiculed, for abrupt and honest Lakers resignation

Alex Reimer
April 10, 2019 - 11:40 am
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Magic Johnson abruptly stepped down as president of basketball operations for the Lakers Tuesday because he says he didn’t enjoy the job. He didn’t like keeping his professional distance from players and loathed making the impersonal business decisions that executives are often tasked with making. Talking heads around the country will probably excoriate Johnson for not telling Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, whom he says he loves like a sister, about his sudden decision prior to his impromptu press conference. The NBA legend says he couldn’t bring himself to break the news to her face-to-face. 

On the surface, that looks like childish and immature behavior. Johnson, by his own accord, was taking part in organizational meetings as recently as Monday –– knowing he wasn’t going to lead the Lakers through one of their most crucial summers in recent franchise history. He’s left his supposed sister in an untenable position. But she doesn’t seem to mind. Or at least, her love for Magic outweighs any possible feelings of betrayal.

“Earvin, I loved working side by side with you,” she tweeted Tuesday night. “You’ve brought us a long way. We will continue the journey. We love you.”

If Jeanie Buss isn’t harboring ill-will towards Johnson, then we shouldn’t, either. He says he was miserable in his position. We should applaud him for prioritizing his personal happiness over his professional reputation, which has undoubtedly taken a hit. 

Johnson’s two-year stint atop the Lakers’ organization brought LeBron James, but not much else. They haven't recorded a winning record for six straight seasons and desperately need to recruit at least one more star player to roll with LeBron. Magic struck out with Paul George last summer, despite getting fined for tampering, and was banking the franchise’s future on signing either Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving this summer. Los Angeles possesses lots of cap room, but little assurance.

Magic never took to the rigors of working in an NBA Front Office, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting he often traveled and was away from the team. His lasting legacy might be his litany of tampering charges and investigations, which were filed after he had praised Giannis Antetokounmpo and acknowledged he spoke with Ben Simmons about working out. On Tuesday, Magic said he doesn’t want to be constrained anymore when connecting with players around the league. 

"The fines and the tampering and the this and the that, I can't help young men who want me to help them,” he said, per ESPN. “I can't tweet out. Like Russell Westbrook, that was a great feat the other day. I couldn't even tweet it out to say, 'Hey, congratulations.' If I had did that, everyone would have said, 'He's tampering.' I don't like that. I like to be free.”

Magic hinted he couldn’t bring himself to fire head coach Luke Walton, either, which contributed to his decision to step down. Magic Johnson is comfortable being an ambassador, not the Grim Reaper.

Johnson’s announcement was clumsy and raw. It is now one of the most infamous resignations in professional sports history. But Magic probably doesn’t care. The man who was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and has dedicated the rest of his life towards bringing awareness to the deeply stigmatized disease has gone through worse than reading mean articles about himself. 

More than anything, he says he’s happy to be free. “I got a beautiful life. I'm going back to that beautiful life. I'm looking forward to it,” Johnson explained.

His time as Lakers president was disastrous and he quit in juvenile fashion. But at the same time, it seemed very real. On some level, we should applaud someone for being honest, even if he admits he would rather tweet about the NBA than work in it. 

Related: Kyrie Irving will reportedly grant Lakers interview in free agency