Just like that, the Dodgers are credible again, promising again, connected to their city again.
Just like that, it’s Magic.
Go ahead, Los Angeles, dig out that dusty Dodgers cap and unwrinkle that Dodger Stadium seating chart and shout yourself blue again. Go ahead, it’s safe now, after two years in hell your city’s most enduring sports team has just been placed in the giant hands of its most enduring sports star.
A group headed by Magic Johnson has just purchased the Dodgers from Frank McCourt for $2 billion, ending a prolonged nightmare with a soaring slam dunk.
Mark Walter, chief executive of the $126-billion Guggenheim Partners financial company based in Chicago, will be the controlling owner of a group that will be led by Johnson and directed by longtime respected baseball executive Stan Kasten.
McCourt sold the Dodgers to Johnson’s group Tuesday just five hours after Major League Baseball approved three finalists for an auction. As I wrote in a column that appeared on the Internet an hour before the news broke, Johnson’s group was the obvious and best choice over out-of-town billionaires Steve Cohen and Stan Kroenke.
After successfully boycotting Dodger Stadium enough to convince MLB to run McCourt out of town, Dodgers fans are distrusting and disillusioned, and Johnson’s group is the only one with the credibility to quickly bring them back.
Johnson, whose business acumen equals his former Lakers court sense, will become a full-time team executive with an office in Dodger Stadium and a giant welcoming reach that will stretch to every corner of the disaffected Dodgers nation. Kasten, a traditional baseball guy who built the perennially contending Atlanta Braves from scratch and help shape the surging Washington Nationals, was interested in the Dodgers before McCourt bought the team in 2004 and has long held a dream of restoring them to greatness.
When I interviewed Johnson in December when The Times broke the news of his decision to pursue the team, he said, “The Dodgers are my next big thing. This is not just millions of my money, this is dear to my heart. This is bringing back the brand for the people of Los Angeles.”
At the time, Johnson said his goal would be to bring the Dodgers back to the popularity level currently enjoyed by his former team.
“When I first got to town [in 1979], the Dodgers were on Page 1 of the L.A. Times and the Lakers were on Page 3,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen how the Dodgers can be as big as the Lakers, and I want that to happen again.”
We know little about Walter and the Guggenheim folks, who will fund their majority contribution from out-of-state insurance companes, but we know that they have convinced Johnson and Kasten that it’s not about real estate or television, but baseball.
In that same December interview, Johnson said he auditioned six prospective bidders before deciding on the Guggenheim group for winning reasons.
“The first thing I asked Walter was, ‘Do you want to win, and do you want to put money in?” Johnson said at the time. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Johnson said the future Dodgers owner says the things you hear from championship owners.
“Listening to Walter talk about winning, it was like listening to Jerry Buss,” Johnson said. “He told me three times, ‘All I want to do is get to the World Series.’ I know great owners, and this guy can be a great owner.”
Of course, once the initial love fest ends, the tough stuff begins.
The new owners know that Dodgers fans are not a bunch of poor saps on a deserted beach standing around an “SOS” rock formation and waiting desperately for the first ship to save them. They know that Dodgers fans are, instead, huddled and hidden in a clump of trees in the middle of the island, defiant, distrustful, and willing to remain out of sight until somebody shows up with enough smarts and savvy and charm to coax them back home.
Two billion dollars will buy the new owners no love or respect or even 30,000 folks on a school night in September. Two billion dollars will only buy them two billion questions from the toughest crowd they’ve ever faced.
Those hundreds of thousands of Dodgers fans who abandoned Chavez Ravine will need more than simple answers. They will need action, they will need explanation, they will need a group that can proactively reestablish the bonds of this city’s most enduring yet most abused connection with a sports franchise.
In my opinion, they needed Magic.
On Tuesday night, they got him, and the fastbreak is on.