General | MAN ABOUT SPORTS

Peripatetic Magic in for a real challenge with Lakers

by Dave Wiggins

Reading or watching the sports news in recent years has been like playing that arcade game Whack-A-Mole.

But in place of mole-pounding, it’s been Whack-a-Magic.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former Los Angeles Laker superstar, keeps popping up all over the place.

Whether you wish to see him or not.

Guy won’t stay out of sight.

And when he pops up, he’s usually wearing a megawatt mugging-smile for the cameras.

Seems Magic never met a photo op he didn’t like.

Some examples.

When he was a member of the group which bought the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years back, he was front and center at the introductory press conference.

You’d have thought he had a big piece of the Dodgers.

Or at least a slice.

Turns out he held only a 2.3 percent stake in the club.

More like a sliver.

He also popped up as a front man for the new MLS soccer team Los Angeles FC, wearing a team jersey.

There are 20 other co-owners, so chances are his share there is wafer-thin also.

And when the NFL Rams returned to Los Angeles, who was front-and-center on the bandwagon as head of hoopla?

You betcha, another Magic pop-up.

Nothing happens in La La Land (or elsewhere), it seems, without Magic being attached to it.

At every start-up, be it a Kardashian boutique in Beverly Hills, a soul food joint in South Central or a taco truck in East L.A., it’s likely Magic will be there flashing his pearly whites.

It’s win-win for both the business involved AND Magic.

Each party gets the publicity it desperately craves.

Now, though, we may be seeing the ultimate Magic pop-up.

And this time, he won’t be retreating back into his hoops retirement hole.

Not for a while, anyway.

Magic has sprung up as the new Head of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, the organization he led to numerous NBA titles late last century as a player.

Now, after decades of sideline sniping, Magic will have to put, if not his money, his basketball exec bravado where his mouth is.

After previously signing on as a mere Laker “adviser,” it didn’t take much time for him to execute a stunningly quick coup d’etat.

When the takeover went down, MAS was still trying to figure out how Magic could possibly “call all the shots” in his new helper role, as he had stated he wanted to.

After all, there was general manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, part owner and residing chief of basketball operations standing in the way of such all-encompassing power.

And then, whoosh!

Off with their heads.

Both Kupchak and, amazingly, part-owner Buss were fired.

By Jimmy’s sister, Jeanie, numero uno in the Laker chain-of-command.

Yikes!

Et tu, sis?

Seems the trust that the team was placed under by their Dad, late owner Jerry, allowed Jeanie to do that.

A bloodless coup it was not.

But MAS shouldn’t be surprised. Not where Magic is involved.

After all, this is the same guy who, back in 1981, saw to it that his coach Paul Westhead was fired despite having just led Johnson and his Lakers mates to an NBA title.

Seems Magic didn’t care for the offensive style Westhead espoused.

If there was ever a smiling assassin, Magic is it.

So, for now, anyway, the Buss family has given Johnson the keys to their Maserati (or is it Ford Pinto?).

The guess here is that Magic will bring in a nerd herd to handle all the mundane minutiae involving in running a pro basketball team, allowing himself more availability for the ESPN and NBA-TV cameras.

MAS would love to have stock in the company that puts out Magic’s chosen toothpaste.

It’s sure to go through the roof with the amount of times Magic will now make sure his choppers are lens worthy.

Look for Magic to basically play fantasy team owner.

That salary cap and CBA (Collective Bargain Agreement) stuff?

Ugh! That’s what pocket protector-wearing, pencil-pushing bean counters are there for.

No need to “brush” up that on, too.

In his briefly-held former role of adviser, Magic had spoken of a collaborative effort being needed between all Lakers parties involved — from on-floor coaches to front office folk.

Now that he’s atop of the personnel food chain, we’ll see if that still holds true.

Magic had spoken of talking to present Lakers coach Luke Walton about Luke’s needs and wants regarding players.

MAS wonders how much Magic will value the input of a rookie coach who was but a solid role player as a pro performer and whose previous coaching experience was that of clipboard-holder for Steve Kerr as a Golden State Warriors assistant.

The first time Walton asks for a player Magic does not deem a proper fit or Walton fails to give certain Johnson acquisitions the playing time Magic feels Luke should, will Walton be pounding pavement?

Will Magic be a suffocating micromanager of Walton, or his replacement, like he was with his players during Johnson’s ill-fated mini-stint as the Lakers head coach in 1994?

An overbearing Magic wore on his charges, causing them to tune him out as they struggled to a 5-11 mark under his guidance.

Magic was a classic example of a former great performer-turned-coach or manager who didn’t get it that his players weren’t capable of ascending to HIS level of competence.

Has Magic learned his lesson in that regard?

And, most importantly, is this a long-term deal for him?

Or will Magic tire of being a team honcho just as quickly as he became disillusioned with coaching.

Some ex-players who turn into coaches or execs never seem to understand that performing those duties will never replace actually PLAYING.

Like they hope — or think — it will.

It can, at best, only be a different type of sports thrill.

Never the same player rush.

Trust MAS on this. He’s been down this same road.

With his latest pop-up, Johnson will go from second-guesser to second-guessed.

And no matter how popular Magic was as a player there will be no shortage of pundits and fans loosening up their fingers should the Lakers continue their downward spiral.

All the better to get a firm grip on the ol’ Whack-a-Magic mallet.

So they can reach waaaay back as they try to pound Magic’s smiling countenance permanently out-of-sight.

Email Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com