LOS ANGELES -- Earvin "Magic" Johnson has come a long way from the campus of Michigan State University, a bike ride from his Lansing home down the road. But through it all, the titles, tributes and tribulations, one thing never has changed. This is a man who thinks big and acts accordingly.
From NCAA and NBA championships to a gold medal with the Barcelona Dream Team in 1992, Johnson has been synonymous with what he liked to call "winnin' time" -- and doing it in spectacular fashion.
True to form, Johnson is creating headlines and attention in his role as the face of the Guggenheim Partners firm in control of the revitalized Los Angeles Dodgers. They rocked the baseball world over the weekend with their nine-player swap with the Boston Red Sox, bringing Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the West Coast at roughly the $240 million cost of one Albert Pujols down the freeway in Anaheim, where the Angels reside.
The Magic Man was beaming, in characteristic form, as he spoke with MLB.com about the bold direction being taken by the franchise that integrated Major League Baseball with Jackie Robinson's signing and emergence in 1947 and now has the most prominent African-American owner in sports in Magic, in the company of CEO Mark Walter, club president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti.
MLB.com: Is it your intention with all this big-name, high-profile talent you've acquired -- Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino joining Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier -- to bring a different brand of "Showtime" to Los Angeles?
Johnson: I laugh when people ask if we're trying to upstage the Lakers after they got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, but that's what we need here in Los Angeles: stars. This is an amazing time in L.A. with all the great teams and players we have now.
Hollywood is the land of stars. L.A. is used to big Dodger personalities, from Tommy Lasorda to all the great players in the organization's history. The Dodgers have always been about winning and stars.
We're excited to have guys like Adrian, Josh, Carl. Not only are they great baseball players; they're also great personalities. The guys we've brought in, including Hanley, have excited the fan base. This Boston deal is the type of trade fans want to see happen. It's a sign of what we're going to do here, the type of ownership we are. My home phone and cell phone have been blowing up. People are telling me how excited they are about their Dodgers, and that's a great feeling.
MLB.com: When your group submitted the winning bid and purchased the club from the McCourts, you were outspoken in vowing to do everything possible to bring the city its first World Series championship since 1988. How important is it to you to fulfill that pledge to the fans?
Johnson: I'm sure there were people around the league saying, 'OK, they're talking about doing something. Are they going to pull the trigger?' I think we've answered those questions. When you bring in the type of players we've brought in, it sends a message that we want to win now.
When Stan and Mark and I sat down to talk about where we wanted to go with this, we said if a trade of this magnitude came along, we were going to be aggressive. From Day One, that's been Mark's and Stan's attitude as well as mine. Everything we do is for the fans. We're doing what we told them we were going to do.
We're not going to do anything stupid. This trade with Boston made sense for us. We acquired players who are going to help us now and for years to come. They're in the prime of their careers. They're guys we can build around and count on while we're building up our farm system.
MLB.com: When you were the Lakers' leader on and off the floor, the great Bob McAdoo arrived with a tarnished reputation and flourished in a fresh, new environment. Can you see that happening with Crawford, when he returns next year from Tommy John elbow surgery, and also with Beckett? They left behind some hard feelings in Boston about not living up to expectations.
Johnson: We want players who want to be here, and all these guys are excited to be playing in Dodgertown, in L.A. This organization is just beginning to get the pride back it had for so many years. This is a new start for them. Everything is new. All we ask is to come play baseball. Donnie [Mattingly] is a great manager. He will bring out the best in those guys.
You look at Crawford, he was the biggest guy on the free-agent market [after the 2010 season]. We're excited about what he can do for us next year and in the future, with his great speed and athleticism. He's a difference-maker, a great player. We believe he'll love playing here, that our park and team are ideal for his talents. It's a perfect place for him to get back to being the dynamic player he is.
Josh Beckett is a proven winner, a World Series champion [with the Marlins and Red Sox]. He's a big-game pitcher, and that's what we were looking for. When you have him and Kershaw coming behind each other, you have to feel good about your rotation. Josh is going to enjoy pitching for the Dodgers, and in this ballpark. That's what we want him to focus on -- pitching, nothing else.
MLB.com: The enormous impact Fernando Valenzuela had in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, inspiring the Latin American community with his remarkable pitching and story, was a once-a-lifetime experience. Do you believe the same fans will respond to Gonzalez, a Mexican-American born and raised in San Diego, the way they did to Fernando?
Johnson: Well, first of all, we traded for Adrian because he's a great player, not because he's a Latino. He makes our lineup better, top to bottom. Every guy in the lineup, before him and after him, is better with Adrian. He's smart. He knows how to hit. And he's a great first baseman, one of the best with the glove.
Latino fans are going to embrace him here. Any time you have one of your own, from the same neighborhood so to speak, come up and be successful, you have a special feeling for him. He's happy coming home to Southern California. Our fan base already is energized. Look at how they reacted in his debut when he hit that home run in his first at-bat. That's why he makes the whole lineup better. What a special moment that was for Adrian and the organization.
MLB.com:The Dodgers are pursuing their eternal rivals, the Giants, in the National League West. Was this a move to put you over the top in the division this season, or was it a bigger picture deal than that?
Johnson: The Giants and Diamondbacks -- don't overlook them -- are tough, no doubt about it. We understood we needed a little more firepower and starting pitching. And we got both in the trade. No matter how much money was involved, this is amazing to get all this talent in one trade.
We're going for it now, of course, but we're in it for the long haul. We want the Dodgers to be champions again for years to come. I'm really happy to be part of an organization that is this committed to winning and doing it the right way, with good people.
MLB.com:When you were with the Lakers, as a player or a part-owner, can you recall a trade with a comparable impact to this one with the Red Sox?
Johnson: McAdoo was the biggest signing in my playing days. Mychal Thompson was a big trade. The biggest trade was getting Kobe Bryant [from Charlotte for Vlade Divac in 1996] and then signing Shaquille O'Neal. That was obviously huge.
MLB.com: Crawford was a high school basketball star in Houston, heavily recruited by big-time programs. Do you expect him to want to talk about challenging you one-on-one next year, like Kemp and Dee Gordon have done?
Johnson (laughing): When he's healthy next year, Carl will probably want to take me on. Matt, Carl, Dee, I'll let them all dream they can beat me. But you know better, right?
MLB.com: Is your new life in baseball everything you'd imagined?
Johnson: Everything and more. I'm lovin' it. I've always thrived on challenges, and this is truly exciting for myself and my family, being part of all of this.