Johnson says team in Vegas is no gamble

8/2/2005 - NBA

NEW YORK -- For years, Magic Johnson has been looking for an NBA team to buy. The Hall of Famer turned successful business mogul says the right opportunity hasn't presented itself.

But if the league allows a team to relocate to a city known for its magic -- Las Vegas -- Johnson promises he'll be in the game.

"If they would ever allow it to happen, of course I would jump on that in two seconds," Johnson told ESPN.com on Monday. "That's definitely the move because there's no question about the fact that that would be a good investment."

Last Friday, Bloomberg reported that the city would be the host of the 2007 All-Star Game, which would be the first time the event would take place in a non-NBA city. The league has yet to make a formal announcement.

"The All-Star Game was the first step," said Johnson, who was in Manhattan at the NBA Store to introduce "Magic 32," a new line of signature shoes and apparel. "I think David Stern made a really smart marketing move by going there. Everyone is going to want to be in Vegas."

NBA spokesman Tim Frank would not confirm that a press conference announcing the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas was imminent, but Frank did say that "our position has always been that as long as NBA games are on the sportsbooks in Las Vegas, an NBA team will not play there."

Several NBA teams play summer league games in Las Vegas. The Utah Jazz played games there in the past, but not on a full-time basis.

Johnson said that he doesn't think that the city's gambling ties should be an issue -- casino operators already agreed that they would not take action on the All-Star Game if it were in town and The Palms hotel can't take bets on NBA games because its owners own the Sacramento Kings. Johnson also says that placing a team there would not encroach on the territories of other teams.

"It would hurt no franchises," said Johnson.

Since retiring from the NBA because of HIV (Magic said he still has HIV, but that it is dormant in his body), Johnson has amassed a business empire. He is a partner with Loews movie theatres and is the only franchisee of Starbucks.

Johnson currently owns a five percent stake in the Los Angeles Lakers, but says he is always looking for a bigger piece of the pie somewhere else.

"If it were a good investment I would definitely make it," Johnson said. "But I tell people all the time that I just don't want to have my ego satisfied by buying one. It's got to be a solid business investment."

Johnson says he has already assembled an ownership group that is ready to bid when the right team hits the market, or if a team in a rough market could be moved to the Sin City.

One team that has been on and off the market recently is the Orlando Magic, which would at least share a nickname with its owner. But Johnson says that the lack of luxury suites in the TD Waterhouse Centre combined with the age of the surrounding community doesn't make the purchase a good buy. The team has averaged fewer than 15,000 fans per game for five out of the last six years.

"It depends on the city and how can you grow the business," Johnson said. "Some of [the teams] can be very profitable and some of them you are just at a ceiling and you'll never be able to make any money unless you can sell it to somebody. What people don't realize about me is that this is what I do every single day now."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.