“You could be responsible for the greatest franchise in the world.”
Of all the pitches Magic Johnson had given to players during his time as an executive, owner, coach or perspective teammate, that pitch he delivered to LeBron James still occupies his mind nearly four years later, and Johnson detailed what his pitch was to LeBron that summer in a candid one-on-one conversation with Shannon Sharpe on this week’s episode of “Club Shay Shay.”
It was the summer of 2018 and the Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a miserable 35-47 campaign. The franchise had not been to the postseason over the past half-decade, and Magic knew the organization needed to make a splash.
James had the ability to exercise his contract option to leave Cleveland and sign with a new NBA team, and Johnson knew that bringing the most dominant player in the game to Los Angeles could bring the organization back to prominence.
“I told him, ‘They are going to look at you and say, ‘You … you did that,’'” Johnson said of his pitch to James. “I said, ‘Give me two years and we are going to win a championship that third year.’”
On July 9, the deal was completed, as James was officially a member of the Lakers. When asked about his decision, James said playing for a franchise with such great championship history was a “dream come true” and a situation he simply could not pass up at that stage in his career.
The team struggled in James’ first season in Los Angeles, as he dealt with a variety of injuries, causing him to miss a then career-high 17 games. The Lakers fell out of playoff contention, and on April 9, 2019, Johnson announced his resignation from his position of President of Basketball Operations, which he did not discuss with James beforehand.
“I regret not calling LeBron and telling him I was stepping down,” Johnson told Sharpe. “I really regretted that. … I owed him that.”
Johnson opened up to Sharpe about what led to his decision to step down and his belief that the origination needed to make a coaching change. When it became obvious the team was going to stick it out with Luke Walton as the head coach, Johnson admitted it became apparent to him that he needed to make a change for himself.
The following offseason, the Lakers made a coaching switch and brought in Frank Vogel, and also traded multiple young players in order to acquire superstar Anthony Davis.
Those two moves proved to be the right ones, as the Lakers opened the 2019-20 season with a 17-2 start, which matched the best start in franchise history. The team would go on to finish the regular-season with a 52-19 record in the regular season and earn the top seed in the Western Conference for the first time since 2010. They cruised through the postseason, and sure enough, Magic delivered on his promise to LeBron, as the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals, delivering the storied franchise its 17th NBA title, which tied the Boston Celtics for the most all-time.
“Everything I told him happened,” Johnson said of his promise to James. “I give LeBron a ton of credit for buying in. I’m so proud of him.”
Check out the full episode of “Club Shay Shay” with Magic Johnson below:
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