Magic Johnson Denies Misconduct with Lakers Staff Ahead of Reported ESPN Story

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2019

Magic Johnson speaks to reporters prior to an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. Johnson abruptly quit as the Lakers' president of basketball operations Tuesday night, citing his desire to return to the simpler life he enjoyed as a wealthy businessman and beloved former player before taking charge of the franchise just over two years ago. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Magic Johnson denied he was stepping down because of a reported impending ESPN story on his workplace conduct.

"That story is wrong," Johnson told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

"Never disrespected anybody. Never did anything bad. Am I tough? Hell, yeah! You work for me, I'm demanding. But at the same time I'm fair. They've been talking about that article for how many months? Everybody running, 'Oh they're writing an article.' I'm gonna say, why didn't they interview anybody at ESPN? If I was doing something wrong to employees disrespecting, this or that, think they would've hired me twice?"

No details on the story have been made available at this time, and it's unclear if the piece will ever run for ESPN. 

Stephen A. Smith, who is friends with Johnson, said on First Take on Wednesday (h/t Ryan Glasspiegel  of The Big Lead) that Magic felt "betrayed" by some in the organization: 

"Let me tell you what's going on here. Magic Johnson feels betrayed. Magic Johnson feels betrayed by folks within the Lakers organization. Not Jeanie Buss, but folks within the Lakers organization. He was hearing the chirping and the whispering, which he alluded to in the press conference yesterday.

"And there's so much stuff that's been going on. It's absolutely ridiculous. You hear about some exposé that ESPN or someone was going to report, because people were chirping about what he was like as a boss. That annoyed him. You've got Rob Pelinka, the general manager, pivotal in all this, because he was the individual who was talked about at Lakers facilities constantly joking around asking the question 'Where's Magic?' — to bring attention to the fact that Magic Johnson was perceived as being an absentee executive."

Johnson abruptly resigned as Lakers president of basketball operations Tuesday night without notifying anyone in the organization. He then spent the next two hours granting interviews to gathered media, essentially explaining he was walking away because he did not enjoy the job.

"I like to be free," Johnson told reporters. "I've got a great life. ... What am I doing? I've got a beautiful life. I'm gonna go back to that beautiful life. I'm looking forward to it. Somebody is going to have to tell my boss, because I know she's going to be sick. But I knew I couldn't face her face-to-face and tell her."

The Lakers were among basketball's biggest disappointments this season, finishing 37-45 in a tumultuous year that essentially wasted a year of LeBron James' prime. Johnson's acumen consistently came under fire, particularly for his handling of the Lakers' pursuit of Anthony Davis.