Advertisement

Can the Dodgers fulfill Magic's vision?

From ESPN - October 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- There is no way to pin down Magic Johnson at any moment. He's up long before dawn and in the gym for a morning workout. After that, he's everywhere and anywhere. The Lakers' new offices, practice courts, Dodger Stadium, a business meeting, a political rally.

The past few months, as all the teams in his burgeoning Los Angeles sports empire have taken their turns in the spotlight -- the Sparks, Lakers and Dodgers -- Johnson has been on a plane trying to keep up with them all like a proud father rattling off the accomplishments of his overachieving children.

"Thank God I own a plane," Johnson said during a 10-minute window when he was supposed to be eating lunch Thursday, but sacrificed it for this interview. "I can cover a lot of ground."

In the past few weeks, that plane took him to Minnesota to watch the Sparks in the WNBA Finals, Las Vegas to watch the Lakers in a preseason game, where he delivered an emotional speech to a town still reeling from a tragic mass shooting, and then back to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers in the National League playoffs.

Officially, he is a co-owner of the Dodgers and Sparks, and president of basketball operations for the Lakers.

Unofficially, he's the man trying to restore sports in Los Angeles to the glory they once had under his mentor, former Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

"He tutored me, and I think this is what he wanted me to do and be as a man," Johnson said. "I am just doing the things he taught me and put me in position to be.

"But I ca not hit and pitch or play defense. I sit back and watch these guys do it, and they are doing a wonderful job. It's their turn. I have had my moment."

He has had many moments in this town. Magic moments, hence the nickname.

"But I ca not hit and pitch or play defense. I sit back and watch these guys do it and they are doing a wonderful job. It's their turn. I have had my moment."

Magic Johnson

Which is why it feels like an entire city is hoping and trusting and wondering if he can do something special again. Is his mere presence enough? Is there such a thing as a Magic touch?

Time will tell as the Dodgers face the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday at Dodger Stadium. It is the Dodgers' third NLCS berth since 2012 when Johnson and a group of investors bought the team. This year's squad amassed a league-best 104-58 record and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the best-of-five division series.

Six days after Game 1 of the NLCS, the Lakers open their regular season with their new star, or at least would-be star, Lonzo Ball.

"The town is on fire right now with the Dodgers," Johnson said. "And then next week, the town is so ready for the Lakers to get going and the Lonzo Ball era to get going."

The excitement for what could be, and the trepidation for what could fall short, is palpable.

While at ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw's charity event in July, Johnson declared this is the year the Dodgers to win the World Series. Months later, his vision has not changed.

"I want a World Series for the Dodgers so bad. I want it for the players. Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez. Man, I want it for them. I want it for the fans, who have waited so long. I want it for Dave [Roberts], he's done such a good job," Johnson said. "I want that World Series for them all so badly."

He wants it for himself, too, of course. The man might smile a lot, but he's competitive as hell. After the Sparks lost in the WNBA Finals, friends said he was bummed out for days.

But unlike his playing career, when he could start at center in the NBA Finals if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out with an injury, drop 42 points and grab 15 rebounds, what happens next is not in his hands.

It is in the hands of players like Ball and Kenley Jansen, of coaches like Luke Walton and Dave Roberts and executives he works alongside of, such as Lakers co-owner and president Jeanie Buss and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

He has played a role in putting them in places to succeed or fail. Or in some cases, simply empowering them to continue on in the roles they were in, before he ascended to his current position with each franchise.

In other words, what happens next becomes a key part of his legacy in Los Angeles.

"When I came on board," Johnson explained, "the Dodgers needed to change at that time. And look where we are now. The Lakers needed to change -- and look where we are heading. Same with the Sparks [who were about to be relocated to San Jose before Johnson and his group of investors bought them].

"I feel honored I can play a part. But everything I do is for the players and the fans, now. This is their time."

The Knowledge

There were so many things Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen wanted to say when he saw Lonzo Ball walk into the Dodgers' clubhouse this summer. He'd been watching the kid at UCLA all year, hoping he'd somehow end up with the Lakers and help resurrect the franchise after four straight seasons in the lottery.

"I grew up as a Shaq fan," Jansen told ESPN. "My older brother was a Lakers fan. After Shaq was traded to the Lakers, that became my team as well. So to be in L.A., where I can go watch them, and we can get a player like Zo, it's unbelievable."

Jansen wanted to tell Ball about his own climb to stardom. The heart surgery in 2012 and foot surgery in 2015 that made him realize his time in the game was short, and his window to maximize his Hall of Fame talent was even shorter.

"After that 2015 surgery, it was like, 'Man, I know I have a bunch of talent. But I ca not take anything for granted anymore. I really have to work to get there. I have to get information from guys who have been there before. So I started talking to Eric Gagne more in spring training. Get his mindset. I speak to Magic Johnson, to get his mindset.

"I feel like Zo, if he really wants it, his future is so bright. He has so many good people with him, he could become one of the greatest in his era. I really believe this guy could be as good as Steph Curry is, because of his passing and vision. He can be unbelievable."

The Mission

The Next Generation

Advertisement

Continue reading at ESPN »