Even if Magic Johnson were to do absolutely nothing over the course of his tenure as President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, he would still be a better executive than Phil Jackson ever was.
Nepotism and favoritism is the American way. Don’t believe me? Just ask Magic himself.
While Johnson’s hiring has been universally met with acceptance and optimism, there have been a few detractors out there who are skeptical, with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard being the most vocal.
Le Batard did more than express his disapproval of Johnson’s hiring. In essence what he did was cast aspersions on Johnson by highlighting the numerous failures Johnson has had in other ventures. Whether it was his failed stint as head coach of the Lakers, a talk show host, a sportscaster, Le Batard used that as evidence to support the belief that Johnson’s hiring should be met with more than mere raised eyebrows.
I have two problems with Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson’s hiring. First, Le Batard conveniently omits all the things that make Johnson qualified to hold the position. Things such as his rapport with owner Jeanie Buss, his basketball acumen, his marketability, his eye for basketball talent and his business acumen all made him a viable candidate.
The second problem I have is that Le Batard behaves as if this is the first time in NBA history someone has received a job based on who they were versus what they could actually produce.
Where was this same outspokenness when Jackson was hired for the New York Knicks front office position? We know the only reason James Dolan begged Jackson to come aboard was because of name recognition and the cache he accrued as a head coach in the league.
In the instance of Johnson and the Lakers, as I said before he has a great rapport with management, which I think will ultimately help, not hurt him. He’s been a part of or around the Lakers for the last 30 or more years and despite their recent shortcomings, Jeanie Buss in conjunction with Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have had a ton of success over the years.
Ultimately, I think the biggest difference between Johnson and Jackson is that Johnson is smart enough to surround himself with people smarter than himself, whereas we see Jackson’s own hubris habitually supercedes his better judgement.
Smart people are smart because they’re smart enough to know that they need help in order to be successful. If you’re the smartest person in your circle, you need to get a new circle. Anyone with two working eyes and realistic expectations recognizes this Lakers revamp process is an uphill battle.
Magic knows that. We all do.
He will have his share of ups and downs. He will receive praise and criticism in the same breath. Johnson’s hiring of Rob Pelinka has been the superstar Executive’s first taste of criticism. Most people understand why the shrewd move was made and are optimistic that Pelinka can help rehabilitate the Lakers, however a very narrow segment of people question the optics of the hire.
A wise person once said that the difference between White people and Black people in the workplace is that when White people show up to work they have a responsibility; whereas when Black people show up to work they have an obligation. That obligation is not just to their employer, constituents or even themselves, but rather an obligation to a community who looks to individuals such as Johnson to use their platform to help level the playing field.
And what that means as it pertains to Magic Johnson specifically, is that not only does he have to be President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers and succeed at that job, but he also has to employ, uplift, reach out to and look out fellow aspiring NBA executives who are Black. He is being unfairly cast as the Black NBA executive savior; the meal ticket for which aspiring Black NBA executives can live vicariously through.
Not entirely unfair expectations but not always realistic either.
Pelinka’s hire, much like Johnson’s, goes back to the old adage; sometimes it’s not what you know, but rather who you know.
Neither had anything to do with their race, and everything to do with the fact that the person hiring them was fond of them on a personal and professional level.
But familiarity breeds contempt.
For those of you who vehemently oppose nepotism or favoritism, or resent the fact that Johnson got the job because of his “charm” or “celebrity,” let’s see what you do when the shoes on the other foot and you’re in a position to do the same. I guarantee you’d do it.
I wouldn’t have a problem with it, which is why you shouldn’t either.
Marcus Lamar is a Washington D.C.-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.