When the Lakers named Magic Johnson their president of basketball operations, the basketball community was split. As Donald Trump has divided the country into those who favor him and those who, let’s just say, don’t, Magic has had a similar effect in the world of hoops.
Dan Le Batard fired the first shot, claiming Magic “cut the line” because he’s famous and charming. Le Batard, who some claim ought to have an “s” strategically placed in his surname so it would sound like what it actually means in French (look it up), continued. “Magic Johnson was given a late night television show, because he’s famous and charming. Failed in 11 shows. Magic Johnson was given a head coaching job of the Lakers, because he’s famous and charming, failed in 16 games. Magic Johnson, not interesting as a broadcaster, given broadcasting opportunity after broadcasting opportunity, because he’s famous and charming. And now, he gets to run the entire Lakers organization because he’s famous and charming. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. He’s a very kind man, to be in his presence is to be awash in all the things people like about celebrity, he will make you feel special, but he wasn’t good at any of those jobs I just mentioned, and he got all of those jobs, bypassing a whole lot of people who are more qualified, because he’s famous and charming.”
Well, I can’t see anybody taking issue with the last part – nor should it be considered a negative. Heck, who doesn’t wish people would describe them as famous and charming? Yet, I would seriously disagree that Magic was hired for his current job because of those two qualities. At least he didn’t land the job because he’s only famous and charming, even though those two traits will go a long way when it comes to luring free agents to the Lakers. Consider, many of the current free agents, and in the next few years, admittedly grew up idolizing Magic. As a free agent, being wined and dined by your idol – adding to the other “ancillary” benefits of living in Los Angeles, e.g. endorsements and business opportunities, weather and tradition, to name just a few – can be very persuasive to a young, impressionable (and highly talented) player.
Le Batard also made the statement, “His Twitter account should disqualify him from the job.” A legit shot, especially after reading some of the banal tweets Johnson has put out for public consumption – two in particular regarding his overall assessment of the Warriors: “With Steph Curry on the floor the Golden State Warriors are a championship team! Without him they are still a very good team!” and “When Steph & Klay are playing great together the Warriors are a hard team to beat.” His criticism of tweeting congrats to the Knicks for hiring Phil Jackson, however, is a low blow as Magic was far from alone in expressing that sentiment after Jackson’s hiring. His current duties, though, certainly won’t include being in charge of the Lakers’ social media account since that’s not what L.A. hired him to do.
Probably due to the fact that Johnson is famous and charming, Le Batard’s comments received immediate push back. Stephen A. Smith, who worships at the altar of Magic, prefaced his remarks saying he was a friend of Le Batard. He then vehemently took his friend, Dan, to task (as he is known to do to folks on a daily basis). Stephen A. applauded the move by the Lakers organization, calling Magic (another of his friends) “a basketball savant.”
Michael Wilbon’s response was based more on facts than emotion. Wilbon’s retort was, “So Le Batard bases Magic’s worthiness on a failed talk show and failed coaching career but not the 25 years since of success in business?” Point, Wilbon. Add to not only his mega success in business but his Hall of Fame career. Sure, that didn’t help him host a late night talk show nor be great on television – even when what he’s discussing deals with his own sport (think Oscar Robertson and Pete Rose). As far as the charge he failed as a coach, it’s almost a fact that superstar players don’t make good coaches.
But his success in running (numerous) overwhelmingly successful businesses? That takes leadership skills, hiring good employees, delegating and a multitude of other talents. If you want to say his role was just that of a front man, then he must have been a helluva front man. I choose to believe his companies thrived because he was more than “just a pretty face” or as Le Batard would have us believe, a “famous and charming” one. Too many successful enterprises.
Of course, another issue just had to be brought up. Keyshawn Johnson took his support of Magic a step further by “reading between the lines” and claiming LeBatard’s criticism was racially motivated. Jorge Sedano, Keyshawn’s broadcast partner on the show, jumped in and said, “No, I know Dan, that’s not true.”
Johnson’s reply? “I don’t know him, but that’s the way I look at it.” To that reasoning, we say, “C’mon, man!”
Isn’t it a shame, with all the struggles we face in America, that anytime someone who isn’t black (Le Batard is the son of Cuban immigrants) criticizes a person who is black, somebody will scream racism? Make no mistake, racism is a major problem in this country. Strides to correct it have been made but, in this case – and, full disclosure, I don’t know any of the people mentioned above - it’s unfathomable that Dan Le Batard could have risen to where he is in his profession (sportswriter for the Miami Herald and radio personality on ESPN) by making statements like he did about Magic Johnson with racial intent. And I don’t like Dan Le Batard! He’s a pompous know-it-all (a quality so many ESPN, and other TV, radio and print people possess in today’s media world) who is popular because of the controversial topics he (delightfully) talks about.
When it comes right down to it, rhetoric is just that. Whoever is right in this instance – and to people like Le Batard, Wilbon and Smith, being right is what really matters – will soon enough be evident because Magic has a job unlike that of media people. See, in Magic’s new endeavor:
“they keep score.”