Magic Johnson did his first interview Monday morning since abruptly stepping down from his role as the Los Angeles Lakers’ president shortly before the final game of the regular season. The NBA great confirmed on ESPN’s “First Take” that he received pushback regarding his decision to fire former head coach Luke Walton and said he felt backstabbed by general manager Rob Pelinka.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was I wanted to fire Luke Walton,” Johnson said on “First Take.” “And we had three meetings. I showed her [Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss] the things he did well and the things he didn’t do well. And I said, ‘Listen, we gotta get a better coach.’ I like him. He’s great. Former Laker, the whole thing. So the first day: ‘Well, let’s think about it.’ Second day: ‘OK, you can fire him.’ Then the next day: ‘No, we should try to work it out.’
“Then she brought (Lakers’ COO) Tim Harris into the meeting, some other guys, and Tim wanted to keep him because he was friends with Luke. Luke’s a great guy. Great guy. And so when I looked up, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t really answer to Jeanie Buss. Now, I got Tim involved. And I said, ‘It’s time for me to go.’ I got things happening that were being said behind my back. I don’t have the power that I thought I had to make decisions.”
Johnson noted that he felt betrayed by Pelinka, who wanted his position within the organization.
Magic Johnson identifies Rob Pelinka is the person who was backstabbing him. pic.twitter.com/3mul9lJuzi
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 20, 2019
“I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore,” Johnson said.” Especially when I got to work beside you, knowing that you want my position. I’m OK with that because this is what happened: I told him in Year No. 2, ‘I’m only gonna be here three years. So my job is to get you ready for this position.’ I was gonna help elevate him to the president’s position. So when all this was coming back to me and guys calling me saying, ‘you better watch out for him.” And what’s crazy was—you know when I took the job how many agents called me and said, ‘you gotta watch out for him.’”
Walton parted ways with Los Angeles when it became clear he was on the verge of being fired before Johnson quit. He was quickly hired to be the Sacramento Kings’ head coach.
Johnson wanted to replace Walton with his “own” coach. He didn’t have anyone in particular in mind at the time, though he said during the interview process he wanted the Lakers to hire Tyronn Lue.
Los Angeles ultimately hired Frank Vogel after Lue passed on the job, insulted by the Lakers’ short three-year contract offer.