LOS ANGELES (AP) — Magic Johnson has sold his small ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, possibly clearing the way for the Hall of Famer to own a bigger portion of another NBA team in the future.

Johnson bought shares representing about 4.5 percent of the Lakers in June 1994 for a reported $10 million. Johnson said Monday’s sale was strictly a “bittersweet business decision,” but the five-time NBA champion has long been interested in taking a larger ownership role in a team.

“I thank (Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss from the deepest part of my heart and soul for allowing me such an incredible opportunity,” Johnson said in a statement. “I want to assure all the wonderful and loyal Lakers fans that my decision will in no way affect my dedication and support for the Los Angeles Lakers. I am and will always be a Laker for life.”

Johnson spent his entire 13-year playing career with Los Angeles, including a 32-game comeback in 1996 nearly five years after his retirement. He has been a successful businessman since leaving the league, excelling in commercial real estate ventures including movie theaters, restaurants and health clubs.

Yet Johnson has ambitions that go beyond a 4.5 percent stake in a team, and realizing those ambitions would require him to sell his stake in the Lakers.

He expressed interest last month in taking a significant role in a group attempting to buy the Detroit Pistons led by Mike Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. Ilitch’s group hasn’t publicly made any connection with Johnson.

Soon-Shiong is an innovative physician, a businessman, a philanthropist, a UCLA professor and a 25-year Lakers season ticket-holder. He founded two lucrative pharmaceutical companies: Abraxis BioScience, which was purchased by Celgene Corp. for $2.9 billion last week, and American Pharma Partners.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.