The Sports Report: Magic says ‘presto’ and disappears

Magic Johnson
(Mark J. Terrill / AP)

Howdy everyone, my name is Houston Mitchell, proprietor of this here newsletter. Let’s get right to the news.


Well that was unexpected.

Magic Johnson announced Tuesday that he quits as president of basketball operations for the Lakers.


“I was happier when I wasn’t the president,” said Johnson, who mentioned he had not informed owner Jeanie Buss of his decision. “I couldn’t face her to tell her.”

One of the reasons for his departure? Magic strongly hinted it was because he wanted to fire Luke Walton. He doesn’t expect that to happen now. Buss is a big supporter of Walton.

“It’s hard when you love an organization like I love this organization,” Johnson said as he started to cry. “It’s hard when you love a person like I love Jeanie.

“I would have to affect someone’s livelihood and their life. And I thought about that. That’s not fun for me. That’s not who I am. And then I don’t want to put [Jeanie] in the middle of us, even though she said, ‘Hey, you do what you want to do.’ I know she has great love for [Walton]. And great love for me. I want to go back to having fun.”


The Lakers issued a statement during halftime of their game against Portland.

“There is no greater Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson. We are deeply grateful to Magic for all that he has done for our franchise — as a player, an ambassador and an executive. We thank him for his work these past two years as our President of Basketball Operations and wish him, Cookie, Andre, EJ and Elisa all the best with their next steps. He will always be not only a Lakers icon, but our family.

“As we begin the process of moving forward, we will work in a measured and methodical fashion to make the right moves for the future of our organization.”

The Lakers are basically a mess right now, with young players unhappy at being the subject of trade rumors, management in turmoil and LeBron James missing the playoffs for the first time in years. When the Lakers signed LeBron, this is not what most fans expected for the first year. It seems like a million years ago that they were 20-14 and in fourth place in the Western Conference.


Bill Plaschke wrote a column on the situation you can read here. Here’s a teaser:

“How does Pelinka survive such bashing? Does this mean Walton’s job is really safe, or does Johnson’s admission that he wanted him fired ruin his credibility in the locker room and make it impossible for him to continue? How much will their recruiting be hurt without Johnson being the team’s salesman? And how much will James want to stick around – or how much will the new basketball boss want him to stick around – if a star doesn’t show up?”



Here are Magic’s comments about stepping down:

“Jim [Hill], great interview last night [with LeBron James] I was riding here thinking about that incredible interview you had. And then I’ve also been thinking about the great meetings I’ve been having with Jeanie the last couple of days. And I love her as a sister. And so today, I’m going to step down as the president. And, I think I don’t want to, her and I have such an amazing relationship. I think that, um, she gave me full power to do what I wanted to do. But I think that with her and I, I want to always preserve our relationship. And love her. And then, I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and the ambassador to everybody. I thought about Dwyane Wade retiring tomorrow and I can’t even tweet it out or be there. Serena Williams called me a week ago and said, ‘Will you mentor me and be on my advisory board?’ And I said, yeah, I want to do that. You know, and so, when Ben Simmons called and we went through the proper channels and they made me look the bad guy out of that situation. But I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything right. I was thinking about all those times, all guys who want me to mentor them and have me be a part of their lives and I can’t even do that.

“I had more fun on the other side than on this side because now, tomorrow, I would have to affect someone’s livelihood and their life. And I thought about that. That’s not fun for me. That’s not who I am. And then I don’t want to put her in the middle of us, even though she said, ‘Hey, you do what you want to do.’ I know she has great love for him. And great love for me. I want to go back to having fun. I want to go back to being who I was before taking on this job. We’re halfway there with LeBron coming. I think this summer with that other star coming in, whoever is going to bring him in, I think this team is going to be in position to really contend for championships with the growth of the young players.

“She doesn’t know I’m standing here because I know I would be crying like a baby in front of her — even though I’m about to cry now. But it’s the right thing to do. Right move to make. And then, that way, he can stay in place and hopefully build the team, coach the team the right way and also, what I didn’t like was the backstabbing and the whispering. I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on. And so I hope that after tomorrow the Lakers can head in the right direction, which we are. Injuries really hurt us. But I enjoyed working with Jeanie side-by-side. I enjoyed working with Linda [Rambis]. Tim [Harris] and I had some good times. The brothers were outstanding as well, working with Jesse and Joey. I love working with you guys as the media. Bill [Plaschke] and I tease each other, but he knows I love him. You (Jim) are always going to be my friend forever. But sometimes, you have to think about where you are in life and what’s important to you. And what’s important for me is that I have to help everybody (inaudible 4:45) the Lakers. Now with the fines and the tampering and this and that, I can’t help young men who want me to help them. Or I can’t tweet out ...l like Russell Westbrook, that was a great feat the other day. And I couldn’t even Tweet it out to say “Congratulations, man.” And if I had of [done] that, everybody would’ve been like ‘Oh he’s tampering.’ I don’t like that. I like to be free.

“And then, I’ve got a great life. I was like, man, I have a great life outside of this. What am I doing? I’ve got a beautiful life. So, I’m going to go back to that beautiful life. And I’m looking forward to it. Somebody’s going to have to tell my boss because I know she’s going to be sick. But I know I couldn’t face her face-to-face and tell her, even though I was just with her yesterday. We had, what, a three-hour meeting about the direction of this great organization. So, today, Rachel (Nichols), I’m free my love.



By the way, the Lakers lost to Portland, 104-101, in their final game of the season.


UCLA men’s basketball

The Bruins hired a new coach Tuesday, and it wasn’t my church league team’s coach as I suggested (they couldn’t come to terms). The Bruins hired Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin.

Cronin agreed to a six-year, $24-million contract and was basically UCLA’s third choice, after failing to hire TCU’s Jamie Dixon and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Pete Carroll was USC’s fifth choice to lead the Trojans football team years ago, and that worked out pretty well, until those pesky violations gummed things up, but that ruins the narrative I’m going for here so never mind.

“I am incredibly humbled and honored to become the head coach at UCLA,” Cronin, 47, said in a statement. “I’m especially grateful to Chancellor [Gene] Block and to [athletic director] Dan Guerrero for this opportunity to join the Bruin Family. UCLA is a very special place with a strong tradition of excellence. To be able to join such a world-class institution is truly a privilege, and I can’t wait to get started in Westwood.”

With Cronin as coach, Cincinnati has made nine consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, advancing to a regional semifinal in 2012. The only other college coaches to take their teams to the NCAA tournament over each of the last nine years are North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self and Gonzaga’s Mark Few. Cronin’s 365-171 overall record includes three previous seasons at Murray State and gives him the most victories among active Division I coaches under 50.

Cronin emerged as a leading candidate for the UCLA job after his teams had beaten the Bruins in two of the last three seasons, including a 29-point thrashing in December. The Bearcats finished this season with a 28-7 record, winning a second consecutive American Athletic Conference tournament championship before losing to Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“Mick has built a fantastic program at Cincinnati, backed by integrity and discipline, and he has instilled an undeniable toughness in his student-athletes,” Guerrero said in a statement. “I am confident he will build this program the right way and lead UCLA basketball back to national prominence.”

Odds and Ends

The Angels defeat the Brewers and Mike Trout leaves game early with a groin strain…. Dodgers strand 13 runners, bats go strangely silent in loss to Cardinals…. Clayton Kershaw is ready for Dodgers return after effective and efficient rehab start…. Doc Rivers had a problem with Patrick Beverley‘s play, and it led to a turning point for Clippers…. WNBA draft: While Sparks look for a good fit, Aces likely to make Jackie Young first pick…. Kings’ latest loss comes in NHL draft lottery as they fall to fifth and miss out on Jack Hughes…. Hurricanes’ ’bunch of jerks’ among rising teams in Stanley Cup playoffs…. UCLA’s Devon Bling overcomes mental rough patch on journey to the Masters…. Phil Mickelson makes major preparation change for Masters…. USC’s Graham Harrell sizes up quarterbacks during spring practice…. Dirk Nowitzki announces his retirement during final home game, scoring 30 in win…. Anthony Lynn completes Chargers coaching staff; team signs long snapper…. Stanley Cup playoffs: Eastern Conference preview and predictions…. Stanley Cup playoffs: Western Conference preview and predictions.

Today’s local major sports schedule (all times Pacific)

Utah at Clippers, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Dodgers at St. Louis, 4:45 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Milwaukee at Angels, 7 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

Born on this date

1936: NFL coach/analyst John Madden

1938: NFL player/analyst Don Meredith

1939: U.S. soccer president Alan Rothenberg

1951: Bowler Mark Roth

1955: Golfer Cary Middlecoff

1962: NFL player Steve Tasker

And finally

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me here. If you want to subscribe, click here.

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