In a bombshell that sent shock waves throughout the Lakers organization and the NBA as a whole, a teary-eyed Magic Johnson announced Tuesday night that he is stepping down after just two years as the team’s president of basketball operations.
“It’s a difficult decision. I cried before I came here,” Johnson said as he choked back tears while making the announcement before the Lakers’ regular-season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 104-101 loss. “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.”
“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.”
Johnson said the decision had nothing to do with Luke Walton’s future as the team’s head coach. He admitted, however, that he wanted to avoid Walton’s job coming between him and Buss, the Lakers’ controlling owner and governor who has been a staunch supporter of the coach.
“We love Luke [Walton], so I got to make a decision and that’s a tough thing, 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 said he had not informed Buss or general manager Rob Pelinka of his decision before talking to reporters. He later told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he didn’t tell Buss first because he was afraid she would have talked him out of it.
“I’m going to be around whenever she needs me, 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 thanked Johnson in a statement, 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.” Buss echoed those sentiments in a tweet, writing: “Earvin, I loved working side by side with you. You’ve brought us a long way. We will continue the journey. We love you.”
Sources told ESPN that Buss, Pelinka, chief financial officer Joe McCormack, chief operating officer Tim Harris and manager of special projects Linda Rambis huddled together in an all-hands-on-deck meeting in El Segundo, California, on Tuesday following Johnson’s announcement.