The Magic of Money: A Future Actualized
From working class beginnings in Lansing, Michigan to signing one of the most lucrative contracts in sports history, Earvin “Magic” Johnson has never shied away from the spotlight. To the contrary, he has lived and thrived in it. Magic isn’t just the best point guard in NBA history, he remains one of the most popular stars the league has ever seen. Aside from his billion-dollar smile, and jack-in-the-box personality, polarizing passing, and wide-ranging entertainment endeavors, Magic is an incredible businessman and visionary. You might ask what are the chances that a six foot nine once in a lifetime athlete would possess CEO level business acumen?
The answer may surprise you.
In 1981, the late Dr. Jerry Buss signed the Magic man to the most lucrative contract in NBA history. At the time, his $1 million-dollar annual salary was only comparable to the earnings of Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Philadelphia’s Moses Malone. And in terms of length, Magic’s 25-year deal dwarfed Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan’s 4-year, $4.4 million-dollar contract. These men weren’t just top tier earners, their monetary value gave their stars an extra luster.
None however, were brighter than that of the face of the 80s, Magic Johnson. The marketability of Magic’s smile seduced Buss. Forget that Magic was coming off a season where he missed 45 games due to torn cartilage in his left knee, or that the leagues average salary was only $65,000 or even that every single Lakers hopeful from die-hard fans to Kareem himself criticized the deal. But in Magic, Buss found his Diana Ross.
Just one year prior to his deal, the future league MVP had arguably the best rookie season ever. The 1979-1980 season was encapsulated by the rookie’s hook shot; that gained him his first ring and “Laker for Life” status. After buying the Lakers in 1979, Buss tied the Laker name to the best thing smoking. Magic was Showtime. His presence in L.A. and the flash with which he played attracted courtside stars, TV deals, jersey sales, and a media storm that made the Lake Show the hottest ticket in town.
Bringing Magic back into the fold would signal the changing of the guard for this new era Lakers franchise. The post-Kobe era, known most notably for the artistic stylings of Julius Randle, would soon come to an end. Jerry Buss’s foresight to sign Magic to a lifetime deal through the early 2000’s was a power move. It guaranteed that the Showtime Lakers’ legacy would at some point be rejuvenated by the next Magic Johnson, who, with Magic at the table, would be allured by life in L.A. and the prestige of adorning the purple and gold.
Buss created a brand name in the Lakers by signing the most polarizing man in basketball. Magic used the Lakers brand name and his charm to gain the trust of LeBron James and was a significant factor in James signing with Los Angeles this offseason. Now we can look ahead to possible Kawhi Leonard trade packages, discuss the 2019 free agent class, or marvel at the Lakers’ new roster additions later. The biggest and most pressing target on the agenda for the Lakers future was to sign LeBron James. Not any “superstar” or “big name”, but LeBron James, the kid from Akron. “James 2018” has been circled on Magic’s board since he joined the Lakers’ front office in February of 2017. Signing Bron validated Magic’s contract, Kobe’s contract (A move by current owner Jeanie Buss that further established the brand) and erased the free agency strike outs that checkered L.A.’s offseason past. We must understand and value the significance of Dr. Jerry Buss’s move to establish a lifetime legacy for L.A. with Magic. Now with LeBron and Magic united in Hollywood, a new legacy begins. It is a partnership. Like Buss and Magic, LeBron has an open dialogue with Laker management. Power in this sense was another reason for making this move; decisions to exert this power won’t continue to be as clandestine as the whispers ahead of his free agency decision.
LeBron is like Magic on steroids in every way imaginable. From his attitude, to his off the court popularity. Like Magic, LeBron’s all-time great status provides him the unique ability to be treated better than every other superstar athlete on the planet. It’s almost unflattering, however, to only to compare him to such. LeBron is like Bono, but louder. He’ll turn 34 this upcoming season, but his empire is just taking off. LeBron’s production company has flirted with LeBron’s next level for the last eight years. He’s campaigned for Hilary Clinton and he’s hinted at both playing with his son Bronny Jr. and owning an NBA franchise.
He doesn’t just want to win rings. LeBron has tied his name to one of the best franchises in sports. For business and celebrity reasons, the move to L.A. surpasses every other possible landing spot. Signing the King has sealed the Lakers future. So how many banners will hang when LeBron is done? Answer: it doesn’t matter.
The LeBron era in Los Angeles starts now. LeBron has been in the spotlight since he was 18. As a “first generation household money maker”, LeBron is ushering in a new generation of business owners, moguls, and entrepreneurs. His platform allowed him to turn down $10 million from Adidas, to blindly sign with Nike. Not because it wasn’t enough, but because he was worth more. The Rockets, Sixers, and Cavs would’ve been something, but would they yield higher than that of life in L.A.? The decision is the difference between equity and money. Why agree to be endorsed by McDonald’s, when you can own Blaze Pizza?
Signing in L.A. was LeBron again seeing endorsements as partnerships, in that it is a bet on oneself and on the longevity of the post-basketball self. This decision wasn’t made in an attempt to chase the ghost of Michael Jordan or to spite Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. It was a legacy play. At 33, LeBron is setting the stage for his post-basketball career. If record serves as a roadmap, we should assume his reign will be coupled with a ring or two maybe, but more of a focus should be placed on the revitalization of the most glamorous team in American sports history. The book of LeBron will be adorned with the stamp of approval whether he is enshrined next to MJ on the Mount Rushmore of G.O.A.T.S., or if he hovers above them all. Which do I think is more likely?
The answer might surprise you.
Sources: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/johnsma02/gamelog/1981 , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEx_oSMpGzs , http://stats.nba.com/player/77142/career/ , https://www.uninterrupted.com/watch/rkcGQ1j3/kneading-dough-le-bron-james