OAKLAND – The news broke a little before halftime Tuesday night as the Lakers played the Warriors in a fitting bit of coincidence: A group that includes Magic Johnson and Golden State part-owner Peter Guber bought the Los Angeles Dodgers for a reported $2.15 billion, a record sales price for a U.S. sports franchise.
Mark R. Walter, CEO of financial-services firm Guggenheim Capital, will be the controlling partner and have the biggest voice, but the biggest names are from the NBA. Johnson, of course, is the former Lakers star and minority owner and current vice president. Gube has the second-largest ownership stake in the Warriors. And there’s also Stan Kasten, the former Hawks executive who more recently was president of the Washington Nationals.
Showing he has a sense of humor to match the bank account, Johnson released a statement that “I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles.”
Johnson probably pulled a hamstring being gracious. He knows the truth: that McCourt dismantled a proud tradition and is historically unpopular in Los Angeles, but this is what Magic does as a beloved figure in town who will reach new heights with this deal. He energizes.
This just became an epic time even by Magic standards. In November, he celebrated the 20-year anniversary of his first retirement from the NBA after testing HIV-positive, a celebration because very few at the time could have imagined he would still be alive. He is the subject, along with Larry Bird, of a Broadway play. And now he bought into the Dodgers. Not a bad few months.
“Magic’s got his hands everywhere,” Kobe Bryant said. “I’m happy for him. Obviously everybody knows how well-loved he is in Los Angeles. He’s starting another chapter in his life and a chapter in his post-NBA career, rebuilding the Dodgers franchise.”
If this is a successful outcome, it’s also an unlikely one. Johnson had tried to become an NBA owner and after selling his five percent share of the Lakers in 2010, he joined the group trying to bring the NFL, his second love, back to Los Angeles. Always a big baseball fan, now he ends up a baseball owner.
“It’s incredible,” Laker forward Pau Gasol said of Johnson’s post-career path. “I think it’s outstanding. It’s a great model to follow in. As a top athlete that has accomplished so much on the floor, I think what he’s been able to do off the floor has been even more impressive. You’ve got to really take your hat off to him. It’s just remarkable what he’s doing. He just continues to build on it. It’s great. I think it’s a great example for many athletes to understand what he did, what it took. He came in the locker room last year and gave us a little meeting, a little talk about how he got there and all the things that he’s done. It’s incredible.”