Since 2008, Magic Johnson has been a part of ESPN's NBA coverage, pairing with Jalen Rose, Michael Wilbon and Bill Simmons on the network's NBA Countdown show last season. After five years, that relationship is coming to a close, as the Hall of Famer will leave the Worldwide Leader.
John Wildhack, the executive vice president of ESPN, released the following statement, per Ben Cafardo:
Earvin “Magic” Johnson informed us today that he’ll no longer be part of our NBA coverage due to his other commitments. We appreciate Magic’s contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors. We are in the process of determining our NBA commentator roles for the upcoming season.
Johnson released a statement of his own, per Cafardo:
I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role. I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much. I’d like to thank John Skipper, John Wildhack, Mark Gross, Kim Belton, Amina Hussein, Mark Summer, Adam Hertzog, Bob Rauscher, Stuart Scott, Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry, Jalen Rose, Bill Simmons, Chris Broussard and the many others at ESPN for the wonderful opportunity to talk about the game I love. They are the best in the business.
Johnson certainly wears more than one hat. He is the chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, is a part of the current ownership group for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is a minority owner of the Dayton Dragons minor league baseball team, among his various ventures. It makes sense that he's too busy to continue his time on NBA Countdown.
However, John Koblin of Deadspin is reporting that it's actually Simmons' expanding role within the program that led to Johnson leaving:
ESPN sources tell us that Johnson's departure was the result of an old-fashioned power war, with one very clear winner: Bill Simmons. "It's Simmons's show now," said one source.
Magic apparently was not at all happy when ESPN told his buddy Michael Wilbon that his role on NBA Countdown would be diminished. He was "booted," according to one source. Another ESPN insider also said that Magic was "privately seething over the Wilbon thing and in general did not like that Simmons held all the power and influence." Magic didn't necessarily need the power, our sources explained; he just didn't feel like kowtowing to Simmons when he's, well, Magic Johnson.
Simmons later addressed these claims via Twitter:
My first experience today with someone writing a "sources" report about me that's not true. Part amusing, part horrifying.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 10, 2013
It's safe to say that ESPN is on the right track to replace Johnson. Though losing the NBA legend is a major blow to the Countdown crew, the program still has Rose to provide the athlete perspective.
Plus, with the additions of Doris Burke—who will straddle the line between host and analyst—and Doug Collins, the show will have a very accomplished roster heading into the 2013-14 season. In particular, the addition of Collins will add a unique take from a former coach and experienced broadcaster.
Magic will be missed, but at least he's been dutifully replaced.