In a surprising move, Magic Johnson quit his job as President of Basketball Operations with the Los Angeles Lakers without advanced notice on Tuesday. In an emotional announcement, he told reporters he was stepping down to return to happier times in his life, ESPN reports.
“It’s a difficult decision. I cried before I came here,” the NBA Hall of Famer said as he fought back tears. “I am about to cry now. It’s hard when you love an organization the way I love this organization. It’s hard when you love a person like I love Jeanie [Buss]. I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Johnson, who returned to the Lakers in Feb. 2017 to take over the team, has had a difficult two years as the team’s President of Basketball Operations and had not returned the Lakers to championship caliber for the team within that time, said he’s simply in pursuit of happiness.
“I want to go back to having fun,” he said. “I want to go back to being who I was before taking on this job.”
In speaking to reporters, Johnson said he was tired of the many things plaguing the team ranging from injuries, to internal politics to even betrayals.
“What I didn’t like is the backstabbing and the whispering,” Johnson said. “I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.”
Johnson made the announcement ahead of the Lakers’ regular-season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers, in which they lost 104-101. The team, known for multiple NBA Championships through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, have not made a playoff appearance since 2013.
Johnson also put to rest that this unexpected move wasn’t made because of Luke Walton’s future as the team’s head coach. His record in the position so far is 98-148 in three seasons with the Lakers.
“We love Luke [Walton], so I got to make a decision and that’s a tough thing,” Johnson said. “I’m good with where I am. I’m happy. I want to do the things I used to do, so I had to weigh both situations, so this is better for me.”
Johnson’s announcement sent shockwaves throughout the sports community, especially for Buss or general manager Rob Pelinka who was not warned ahead of time of his decision.
Johnson admitted that he didn’t want Pelinka to talk him out of it so instead he told reporters first to cement his decision.
“I’m going to be around whenever she needs me,” Johnson said. “Trust me. … It’s going to be hard for her to come and hear this right now. I get it. Because it was hard for me to go do that, to make this decision and come to this conclusion. But she’s going to be fine, and I’m going to be fine.”
The Lakers released a statement of support and thanks Johnson for his contributions, saying in part:
“There is no greater Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson. … He will always be not only a Lakers icon, but our family.”
Although Johnson worried about Buss’ response, she sent a supportive tweet saying:
“Earvin, I loved working side by side with you. You’ve brought us a long way. We will continue the journey. We love you.”
After the announcement, sources told ESPN that Buss, Pelinka, chief financial officer Joe McCormack, chief operating officer Tim Harris and manager of special projects Linda Rambis, held an emergency meeting in in El Segundo, California.
A source told ESPN that the Lakers franchise is “paralyzed” by Johnson’s announcement.
Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo said players were taken aback by Johnson’s announcement
“Nobody had an idea,” said Rondo. “I didn’t know if it was true or not. What shocked me is how everybody else is shocked. Because nobody knew.
“I walked in … and thought LeBron had retired or something.”
Johnson who is a prolific businessman, said he “ happier when I wasn’t president [of the Lakers],” Johnson said.
“We [the Lakers] are halfway there with LeBron coming. Think this summer, with that other star coming in, whoever is going to bring him in, I think this team is really going to be in position to contend for a championship with the growth of the young players.”
“I’m a free bird and I’ve been handcuffed,” Johnson said. “And I don’t like that. … This is the right time. The right move. The right decision. I’m so happy. I’m a guy who always knows when things are right, and this is right. It feels good.”