Magic said time was a factor

Updated: February 15, 2004, 8:49 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson disclosed Saturday that he was a leading candidate to run the New York Knicks' basketball operation before the Knicks hired Isiah Thomas.

Besides the fact that Johnson still is a Lakers' vice president, Johnson said one obstacle was that the Knicks "wanted a decision quick."

"You're definitely interested," Johnson said, after teaming with Lakers guard Derek Fisher and WNBA star Lisa Leslie to win the Shooting Stars competition on Saturday night as part of All-Star Weekend. "I mean, that's the New York Knicks.

"But, I think it was the right situation for Isiah. The right person is in the job."

The Knicks were 10-18 this season when Thomas was hired. Since then, they have gone 15-11 (including 9-5 under new coach Lenny Wilkens) and have moved into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Johnson has maintained a limited role with the Lakers in part because of his various business interests.

"I have eight companies, too," Johnson said. "You can't make a transition like that (quickly)."

Johnson, who has businesses worth an estimated $700 million, did leave his options open about owning a team.

"It just has to be the right situation," Johnson recently told ESPN.com. "I think right for me and right for that organization and the league as well. I would definitely look at the different franchises that come open and see and go from there."

But NBA commissioner David Stern said he wants to make sure that Johnson's desire to own a team wouldn't get in the way of his work in revitalizing the inner cities.

"What he is doing through his community with his Starbucks and Loews Theatres and TGI Friday's franchises, I want him to do that times 10 and set an example for every NBA player," Stern said. "I don't want him to own more than 5 percent of a team (Johnson owns 5 percent of the Lakers) because he'll then be distracted from the important work he's doing in the areas of business and philanthropy."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics