- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan believes in Magic -- Magic Johnson, that is.
On Sunday night, the New York Jets coach dined in Manhattan with the Basketball Hall of Famer to discuss team-building, coach-player relations and ... well, winning. Ryan was joined by Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
No, Ryan isn't texting buddies with Johnson, but he met the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar recently in Las Vegas at the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight and they agreed to get together when Johnson was in New York.
"You try to surround yourself around great people -- at least that's what Magic told me, anyway," Ryan cracked Thursday after an off-season practice.
When Ryan heard Johnson was going to be in the area last weekend, he reached out to him and they met at an Italian restaurant. It was a surreal experience for Tannenbaum, who grew up in the Boston area worshipping the Celtics and Larry Bird. He told Johnson he has a dog named Larry.
"I told him I can never root for the Lakers, but I can root for you," said Tannenbaum, who reminded Johnson that his famous hook shot against the Celtics in the '87 Finals was one of the low points of his childhood.
Ryan said he learned a lot from Magic, things he can apply to football. Magic talked about his player-coach interaction with Pat Riley. They also discussed how to set high standards for a sports organization.
"We talked about, as he put it, doing things the Laker way," Ryan said. "The Lakers had a way of doing things. I just look at our standard as an organization, what we stand for, how we're going to play, how we're going to practice, how we're going to prepare.
"When new guys come in … they have to live up to those standards. If they don't, you have to move on. That's something I've always been a big believer in, but when you hear a guy like Magic Johnson talk about it and the success that he had, I feel confident that we're on the right path."
Tannenbaum, who took notes during the 2 ½-hour dinner, said he was captivated by Magic's work ethic. Tannenbaum's "enduring vision" of the evening was Magic telling the story of how tried to improve his outside shot by playing H-O-R-S-E every day against teammates Bob McAdoo and Byron Scott. They bet three pennies per game.
"I'm thinking, 'Here's a guy with five championships and a gold medal and he's thinking about how he can make himself a better player," said Tannenbaum, adding that he may try to arrange for Johnson to speak to the entire team.
Ryan mentioned the Johnson dinner in his news conference, when discussing the elevated competition on the Jets' practice field. He said Magic told stories about the Olympic Dream Team, and how they waged relentless battles against each other.
"I asked him what those practices were like, and he said they were the most intense things and the fiercest competition that he's ever been in, more than games, more than anything else because you're with the greatest players in the world,"Ryan said.
The Jets aren't the Dream Team, but they're a dreaming big team.
2hJohn Keim and Adam Caplan