Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson's stint as the team's general manager might have lasted only a short while, but his biggest achievement will always be bringing LeBron James to L.A. In 2018, Johnson went to James' house to recruit him and delivered the best pitch to secure the 4-time NBA champion's commitment.
In the final episode of Legacy: The True Story of the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson detailed how his meeting with James went down and why he was so nervous about it at the beginning.
Johnson was honest and transparent.
It was James' agent and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul who told the Lakers that the superstar would love to talk to Johnson for a free agency pitch. Johnson instantly accepted the offer and said he was outside James' house 1-hour before their meeting. When the two all-time greats met, Johnson was honest and transparent about the Lakers' situation and how James would fit in the organization's timeline.
"I made sure I was out there an hour before the meeting sitting outside his house, nervous. I told him I had to be honest with him that you know, we may not make the Playoffs but I said, 'If you let me work my magic, I will put us in a position where we can contend for a championship,'" Johnson revealed. "So at 9:00 p.m., I inched to the gate but I don't ring the buzzer until 9:01," Johnson added.
Aside from Johnson's well-done free agency pitch, The King admitted that the intrigue of the situation in Los Angeles also persuaded him to sign with the Lakers. James knew there was going to be a lot of pressure to bring a struggling Lakers (who were going through their worst years in franchise history before James' arrival) back on top, which motivated him more than anything.
"It was very easy to land here where I am now with the Lakers. The pressure is what I love more than anything, hearing people say 'Well, the Lakers organization is not even competitive' I really really get a kick out of proving people wrong," James said.
A year later, Johnson resigned
James' first season in Los Angeles could have been more successful. When the Lakers found their groove and climbed on top of the Western Conference standings, the 4-time MVP suffered a serious groin injury and had to sit out for multiple weeks. But despite the Lakers' finding their rhythm and identity that year, James and Johnson weren't happy with head coach Luke Walton because of his inability to make in-game adjustments.
So during the season, Johnson wanted to waste no time firing Walton, which didn't sit right with the rest of the Lakers' front office. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss wanted to finish the season with Walton and avoid rotating coaches every year, and it didn't help that the front office prevented Johnson from making such a rush decision. Johnson said this caused him to resign as the team's general manager.
"I told them, when it's not fun for me, when I think that I don't have the decision making power that I thought I had then I gotta step aside," Johnson said. "Other people in the Lakers, non-basketball people were trying to tell me that I can't make those calls. To pressure the love and my friendship with Jeanie, I felt it was best to step down."
"I'm kinda still off guard, it was like a punch in the gut for sure. You know, during that time, I was like 'Holy s**t Magic's gone.' This is like turmoil. I was just thinking about the conversations that Magic and I had, how we was gonna put a trophy back here, and didn't quite understand, and still don't understand," James admitted
Despite all the drama that surfaced in James' first year in Los Angeles, he fulfilled his promise of leading the team to a championship and its 17th banner the following year. Johnson's stint as a general manager didn't go as planned, but he will always be thanked and remembered for this ongoing chapter in the Lakers franchise.