Magic Johnson's victories have a way of turning into victories for all of Los Angeles, so there's a way the city could benefit from his selling his minority ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers. There's a way the city icon can restore one of L.A.'s signature properties.
Magic Johnson should buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If Johnson isn't selling his Lakers share to join Mike Ilitch's purchase of the Detroit Pistons -- and Johnson's agent Lon Rosen insisted Monday that Johnson will not -- he should look at the local baseball team.
The Pistons were the immediate reaction many had to the news of Johnson's sale because Johnson is a Michigan native who grew up rooting for them. The Dodgers are a more logical option, especially when you realize Johnson, 51, has now lived the majority of his life in California.
Rosen said Johnson is selling his Lakers share because, "It's a very smart business decision to sell now."
It would be a great public-relations decision to buy the Dodgers.
For the past 30 years, Johnson has defined sports in L.A. He's the guy with a basketball-dribbling statue outside Staples Center, even though he never played in the building. Kobe Bryant's five championships have to be viewed in the context of Magic's achievements; even Kobe said he now has finally earned the right to sit at the same dinner table as Magic.
Magic was the one who started to remove the spell the Dodgers had held over the city since moving from Brooklyn in 1957, to the point the Lakers have first dibs on the city's sporting heart. It's not even close right now. The Dodgers have become more TMZ than ESPN, with the divorce trial of Frank and Jamie McCourt revealing their personal fallacies, their lavish spending (on themselves, not the team) and their sometimes gloomy projections for the Dodgers' future. Fans were wary of them initially, were tolerant of them while the team made three playoff appearances in the four previous years, and now are sick and disgusted with them.
Right now, the team's fate depends on a judge's ruling on the significance of agreements that were amended by a lawyer after Frank and Jamie McCourt had signed them. Dodgers fans hope the decision will render them legally or financially incapable of owning the team and having to sell.
If it's going to take $1 billion to buy the Dodgers, why not sell them to a guy who has demonstrated the ability to raise $1 billion multiple times with his Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund? Or perhaps McCourt could go out the way he came in, with a highly leveraged deal using real estate as collateral. In Johnson's case, he could put up his various movie theaters and Starbucks coffee shops around the country.
I'm confident Johnson can put together a group to buy the Dodgers. So should he?
We know his preference was to buy the Lakers, but Jerry Buss made it clear to Magic years ago that he'd never be more than a minority investor. Johnson is like family, but he isn't family. Buss wants his kids to inherit the Lakers.
The Dodgers would be some consolation prize. Think of the cultural significance: Johnson could become the first black owner in Major League Baseball of the team that had the first black player.
Think of the buildup in brand equity. If nothing else, Johnson is associated with winning. Sure, the last championship ring from his playing days came the same year as the Dodgers' last championship, in 1988. But while the Dodgers couldn't win a single playoff series for the next 20 years, Johnson was building a business empire with a series of smart moves, and he stayed connected to the Lakers through their next round of championships over the past 10 years. Who was the man who came down from the ESPN broadcasting booth to hand the Larry O'Brien trophy to Buss at Staples Center this past June? Magic Johnson.
Does he know baseball? Well, he probably didn't know every last bean of the coffee business before he partnered with Starbucks, but he made sure to learn from those who did. That's because, most of all, he knows what works. It's about investing in smart people and hard workers, regardless of the business.
Los Angeles loves him. The Dodgers need him. Johnson is nothing if not successful. Does anyone doubt that if he bought the Dodgers it could be Winnin' Time all over again?