by Rob Woollard
LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) –Magic Johnson stunned the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday after resigning from his role as president of basketball operations at the struggling NBA franchise.
“Today, I’m gonna step down as the president,” Johnson told reporters at an impromptu press conference.
Johnson’s resignation comes after a disappointing season which saw the once-mighty Lakers fail to reach the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
The Lakers legend was appointed to his front office position in 2017, charged with reversing a slide in fortunes for the 16-time NBA champions.
The 59-year-old had played a key role in persuading LeBron James to join the Lakers last year in a blockbuster move.
However, the Lakers revival under Johnson stalled this season when James was injured, triggering a slump which saw the team fall from playoff contention.
Johnson also attracted criticism for an unsuccessful pursuit of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, a move which was widely reported to have destabilized the Lakers locker room.
An emotional Johnson told reporters on Tuesday he was stepping down in order to preserve his friendship with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, describing her as like a sister.
The former Lakers star also revealed he had been wearied by the responsibilities of his position, saying he had not enjoyed the process of hiring and firing personnel.
“(Jeanie Buss) and I have such an amazing relationship,” Johnson said. “She gave me full power to do what I wanted to do, but I think that with her and I, I want to always preserve our relationship.
“I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and the ambassador to everybody. I had more fun on the other side than on this side.”
Tired of ‘back-stabbing’
Johnson was widely expected to swing the axe on Lakers coach Luke Walton on Wednesday following their final game of the season at the Staples Center against Portland.
However, he hinted that Walton may now stay.
“Tomorrow I would have to affect someone’s livelihood and their life,” Johnson said, without referring to Walton directly.
“And I thought about that. And that’s not fun for me. That’s not who I am. I don’t want to put (Buss) in the middle of us.
“Even though she said ‘You do what you want to do.’ I want to go back to having fun. I want to go back to who I was before taking on this job.”
Johnson, however, said he believed the Lakers were on the right track following the arrival of James.
“We’re halfway there with LeBron coming,” he said. “I think this summer we’ve got other stars coming in. This team is going to be in position to contend for championships.”
Johnson revealed that he had not even informed Buss of his resignation before announcing it to reporters at the Staples Center.
“She doesn’t know I’m standing here because I know I would be crying like a baby in front of her, even though I’m about to cry now,” Johnson said. “But it’s the right thing to do, the right move to make,” Johnson said, hinting that Walton may now remain as coach.
“That way he can stay in place, hopefully build the team, coach the team the right way.”
Johnson added that he had also grown tired of “the back-stabbing and the whispering” that had dogged the Lakers’ season.
“I didn’t like that,” he said. “I hope that after that, the Lakers can head in the right direction.”
© Agence France-Presse