Since Magic Johnson up and resigned as the Lakers president of basketball operations during an impromptu press conference on April 9, he has been doing a lot of talking. So have a lot of other people. After Magic went on television and cited “backstabbing” and “whispering” as his reasons for quitting so abruptly, pointing the finger directly at Lakers GM Rob Pelinka as basically a snake in the grass, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes put out a report on Tuesday tagging Magic with a litany of allegations that included workplace harassment and an outright lack of commitment to the job. 

If you haven’t read Holmes’ full report, I suggest you do. It paints a downright dysfunctional picture. Having said that, much of what is detailed in the report is a mere doubling down on claims we’ve heard before — that Magic wasn’t fully committed to the job, that he and the Lakers essentially allowed the influence of LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, to divide the locker room and undermine the status of former head coach Luke Walton, and that in the end, Johnson was, perhaps, largely unqualified for the job in the first place and never did anything to disprove that theory, as evidenced by his highly questionable roster decisions and the very public manner in which he struck out on the Anthony Davis trade, reportedly hanging the Lakers’ young core of players out to dry in the process. 

There are still two sides to all these stories. 

And again, these are not new claims. 

What is new is a claim that Johnson was, in essence, a dictatorial monster to work for. In Holmes’ report, Johnson is described as a “fear monger.” Sources describe the anxiety of not knowing which version of Johnson they were going to be dealing with — there was “Magic,” who was always flashing that 1000-watt smile for the cameras, and there was “Earvin,” who behind closed doors reportedly berated and threatened employees in a manner severe enough to cause multiple staffers to suffer panic attacks. 

On Tuesday night, during an ESPN roundtable with Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon, Magic responded to the reports made against him, and when compared against what Holmes’ sources actually said, even the staunchest of Magic supporters would have a pretty hard time putting much stock in any of his explanations. Have a listen:

In case you chose not to hit that play button, here’s what Magic said about the alleged workplace harassment: 

“I’ve never sat in a [human resources] person’s office in 35 years,” Johnson said. “Two years with the Lakers, no HR appearance. Do you think Jeanie Buss would allow me to abuse the employees? If that was the case, she would’ve called me in. Joe McCormack would’ve called me in, the lawyer for the Lakers. As well as Dan, the other lawyer. It never happened.”

OK, so Magic says these allegations are utterly false, that they “never happened,” and his evidence of his innocence is that he was never called into an HR office. Except, this is what Holmes’ report actually said:

Several Lakers staffers, both current and former, said they didn’t feel comfortable going to the team’s human resources department with complaints because they feared reprisal and doubted complaints would make an impact. Several staffers said that feeling represented a general consensus in the office.

Now listen, Magic has long maintained he was tough to work for and that he demanded a lot of his employees, some of which he had to fire, and perhaps there’s some truth in the idea that some staffers simply couldn’t handle a tough boss. But the explanation itself holds zero water, and that’s the problem. The more Magic tries to defend himself, the more he sounds like a guy spinning a shoddy cover-up. It’s entirely believable that employees simply don’t like a boss laying down the law, but saying you’ve never been called into the HR office when the exact report is that people were scared to go to HR is, frankly, the kind of contradiction that calls everything else you say into question. 

As for the longstanding claim that Magic didn’t put his full effort into — and wasn’t even regularly around the office for — his job as Lakers president, here’s what Magic had to say. 

“Lazy? I have built a $600 million business,” Johnson said. “You cannot be lazy going from playing basketball and winning five championships. So I wasn’t lazy as a player, and I’m not lazy as a CEO and a business owner. That’s never going to happen.”

For the record, the word “lazy” is never once mentioned in Holmes’ report, which does state the following:

Current and former team staffers told ESPN that Johnson, who has business interests outside the Lakers, was frequently absent, sometimes appearing only once a week or every two weeks. 

For a little more context here, Johnson is on record as having told Jeanie Buss, prior to his hiring with the Lakers, that he wasn’t going to give up running his other businesses, which made/make him a lot more money than the Lakers were going to pay him, and that as a result he would be “in and out” of the offices. 

So you see, nobody once said Johnson was lazy. They said, in essence, that his full attention wasn’t on running the Lakers, which is clearly a full-time job that has nothing to do with Johnson’s worth ethic as a player over three decades ago. Johnson reaffirming the work he puts into his “other businesses” only serves to validate the claim that he wasn’t all-in with the Lakers. 

This isn’t entirely Johnson’s fault, by the way. Pelinka is portrayed in the report as, frankly, an outright liar. Jeanie Buss, meanwhile, is the one who hired Johnson under these half-hearted conditions, believing that even a partially engaged Magic would be so good at the job, and such a valuable name and face to have officially attached to the franchise, that the keys to the kingdom belonged in his hands. Well, as we speak, that kingdom is being torn down from the inside out, and every time Magic opens his mouth, another pillar of the past appears to fall. 

In the end, the Lakers are tied with the Knicks for the worst record in the NBA over the past six seasons at 163-329. That’s ultimately what all this is about. If they were winning — and Pelinka said this at Frank Vogel’s introductory press conference — then suddenly Magic’s demanding style would probably be being viewed as an all-time great pushing those around him to raise their game, much like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant weren’t always the “nicest” or most positive teammates but ultimately they got the results to warrant their approach. Magic and the Lakers never got the results. If that doesn’t change, a lot of these reports likely won’t either. 

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