While the Sixers were getting shellacked in Dwyane Wade’s swan song in Miami, something bizarre was happening on the West Coast.
Magic Johnson stepped down as Lakers president in an impromptu press conference before the team took on the Portland Trail Blazers. Even more peculiar: He didn’t tell his boss.
Lakers coaching staff fully expected to be fired in hours after the final game of the season. They had believed they were gone for months. Now? Magic quits in public, saying he's too scared to tell Jeanie Buss face-to-face. What an embarrassing episode for a historic franchise.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 10, 2019
Yikes (pretty crazy to see the very level-headed Woj going in on someone like that, by the way).
So why did Johnson step down? One of the things mentioned was how he’d like to freely interact with players around the NBA. The Lakers have been smacked with fines for tampering on a couple occasions during Johnson’s tenure.
Magic Johnson said he will return to community work and reaching out to players around the league to help in their development: “I’m a free bird and I can’t be handcuffed ... This is a good day.”— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 10, 2019
If you’ll recall, Johnson made waves in Philadelphia earlier this season. Already entrenched in a weird situation involving Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis’ trade request, Johnson spoke to reporters at the Wells Fargo Center before the Lakers played the Sixers back on Feb. 10.
When asked a generic question about Ben Simmons, who some have speculated would be keen on joining the Lakers at some point in his career, Johnson had this response:
[Simmons] reached out to me, not to me directly, to the Lakers, to find out if we can get together this summer. I said, you got to clear it with the league ... but if he wants to know how to play the position as a big guard, it's fine, I will do that. But if everybody doesn't sign off we can't get together.
It was odd that Johnson put himself in that situation. During a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers GM Elton Brand was asked about the situation, saying he told the Lakers “no.” Brand later acknowledged that he had a good relationship with all parties involved and didn't want to make waves. The league reviewed the situation and determined there was no evidence of tampering, but it was still a strange thing for Johnson to share.
What’s funny is how much Johnson was credited for getting LeBron James to come to the Lakers in free agency. Was it Johnson’s pull or James’ desire to be closer to his family and thinking about his life after basketball that lured the greatest player on the planet to L.A.? It seems to be more the latter.
Him leaving his current post does make it seem like the comments involving Simmons were innocent and not some sort of recruiting pitch. Johnson is probably the closest parallel in NBA history to Simmons as a near seven-foot point guard.
Now that Johnson no longer works for the Lakers, he’s free to share as many “big guard” secrets with Simmons as he’d like.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.