I was not surprised that Magic Johnson was part of a group that purchased the iconic baseball franchise, the Los Angeles Dodgers. What I was surprised about was that it was the Dodgers instead of an NFL franchise for Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles covering the NBA All-Star Weekend in 2011, the talk was Johnson and his group was all but assured of building a new football stadium and bring an NFL team back to the City of Angels. Yet, the big sports news of the week is Johnson and the Dodgers.
No matter. By all accounts the Johnson group, largely funded by Guggenheim Capital chief executive officer Mark Walter, agreed to purchase the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium and a 50 percent stake in the parking lots surrounding the ballpark from Frank McCourt for $2.15 billion.
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt announced an agreement to sell the team to a group that includes former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and former baseball executive Stan Kasten for $2 billion, the most money paid for a team in the history of professional sports.
The purchase price dwarfs the $1.1 billion Steve Ross paid for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2008, the record for a North American sports franchise, as well as the $1.47 billion Malcolm Glazer paid for Manchester United, the iconic English soccer team, in 2005.
It was the largest sell in the history of sports franchises. In fact, many prognosticators claim foul, that the Johnson group has paid too much for a franchise that is in a prolonged downturn. Baseball needs a strong and stable franchise in Chavez Ravine. Twenty-two teams have been to the World Series since the Dodgers last made it in 1988.
Dodger fans just wanting to get out from under the scandal of McCourt and his public divorce appear to simply want to move forward at any cost, to forget the past few years and start in a new direction.
Indeed, Johnson, who won five NBA titles as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and orchestrated Showtime, buying a baseball team took me by surprise. What this shows is the resilience of Johnson, who retired from the NBA after contracting HIV in 1991, but went on to become a beloved civic leader and businessman.
I guess the opportunity, especially as an African-American, to become an owner of a Dodgers franchise that broke baseball’s color barrier signing the legendary Jackie Robinson, was too enticing to pass up. Having Johnson in a position of leadership may upgrade the percentage of African-Americans playing and attending games — well, at least in L.A.
“I love baseball,” Johnson told reporters. “I’ve been to many, not just Dodger games, but baseball games around the country. I grew up a Detroit Tigers fan, of course, being from Michigan, and then became a Dodgers fan when I moved to L.A. over 30 years ago.
“But the reason I joined was because of these two guys (Stan Kasten and Walter). It was an easy decision. When I met Mark Walter he reminded me so much of (Lakers owner) Dr. Jerry Buss in terms of how he approached things, how he wants to win, family man, that whole thing.
“I still can’t believe that we’re buying the Dodgers. I can’t believe the Dodgers were on the market.”
After the sale was announced, Johnson said he received phone calls from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
“If they invested that much money,” said Lasorda, the Dodgers’ retired Hall of Fame manager, “I’m sure they’ll invest to get us a winner. I wish them all the luck and I admire them. I know both of them. I know Magic from the day he came into Los Angeles as a basketball player for the Lakers, and there is no doubt he is a winner.”
In a statement Lakers owner Buss said, “In addition to being a phenomenal success on the court in leading the Lakers to five NBA championships, he has been a success in everything else he’s become involved with, most notably his spectacular business career and also his educational campaign on behalf of HIV awareness. I’d like to congratulate Magic and his partners on their acquisition of the Dodgers and wish them the best of luck.”
Leland Stein can be reached at either email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII.