So much for being only the popular face of a franchise.
Magic Johnson attempted to make it clear Wednesday that he is more than a local figurehead for Guggenheim Baseball, the new Dodgers ownership group.
During a news conference at Dodger Stadium, Johnson took charge on a stage set up in center field just as he did on court during the Lakers’ Showtime era.
At one point, he directed controlling owner Mark Walter to leave his seat behind a table and stand at the lectern to answer a question about former owner Frank McCourt.
Later, asked to clarify his ownership stake in a team that sold for $2.15 billion, Johnson said it would “pencil out about 3, 4% — it doesn’t really matter.
“When you can write a $50-million check, whether it’s two, one, four, five. ... The main thing is I had the ability to do it, to write it, and then the main thing is that I’m going to be involved.”
During the news conference, in which Walter, team President Stan Kasten and minority owners Peter Guber, Todd Boehly and Bobby Patton were also introduced, Johnson said his responsibilities would include sponsorships, marketing and other business-related areas as well as being an “ambassador” for the team.
His first major announcement: General parking will be reduced from $15 to $10.
Johnson became choked up when asked what it meant to take over a franchise that enabled Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
“I can’t even put in words how it is,” he said, his voice cracking.
Later, recounting his emotions, he said, “If there’s no Jackie Robinson, I’m not sitting here today.”
Johnson spent most of the morning and early afternoon with a new Dodgers No. 12 jersey draped over his shirt and tie and a Dodgers cap atop his head. He wore a blue band on his right wrist emblazoned with “Play Hard” in white letters. His light blue shirt was set off by sparkling dark blue cuff links, a “good luck” gift his wife, Cookie, presented to him during the bidding for the team.
Johnson said he had been coming to Dodger Stadium as a fan for 30 years — “I ate a lot of Dodger Dogs,” he said — but would leave baseball decisions to Kasten.
“That’s his thing,” Johnson said. “The business of the Dodgers, that’s where I’ll be a part of it.”
Johnson said he met team staff members Wednesday. He reiterated that he would be a daily presence at Dodger Stadium, reporting to his new office Monday.
“I told my team before I came down here, ‘Get your track shoes on, because I’m a man who gets up early, and gets in early and works all day and night,’ ” he said.
But how much time does Johnson have to focus on the Dodgers?
Johnson once had an ownership stake in the Lakers but said he no longer has any business interest in the team. He said he would fulfill his ESPN contract as an NBA analyst through the playoffs but intimated that the broadcasting part of his multifaceted career would be put on hold as he became entrenched in the Dodgers.
“I’ll probably be here,” he said, “and not do that.”
Johnson, Walter and Kasten attempted to distance themselves from McCourt while acknowledging that the team’s unpopular former owner still held an interest if the new ownership group decided to develop land around the stadium.
Johnson said he was not bothered by criticism leveled at him for sitting with McCourt during the Dodgers’ season opener last month at San Diego.
“Look, the only way you know Dodger baseball is talk to the man who owns it,” he said. “That’s good business. You have to be in business to understand, CEO to CEO, when you make a transaction, you talk to the previous owner. You always do that. So I’m going to get all the information I needed from Frank.
“He broke down a lot of great things for me that I didn’t know.”
Johnson added, “It didn’t hurt me at all. I’m a good businessman. This is business now. Frank is now no longer a part of the Dodgers. And I got valuable information from him. You use some, you don’t use some and now we’re going to conduct Dodger business.”
As he looked toward third base and took in the stadium that he now co-owns, Johnson reflected on his arrival in Los Angeles in 1979. He said he still could not believe he was part owner of the Dodgers.
“I guess when I walk in that office on Monday,” he said, “I’ll know for sure.”