Magic: 'I still pinch myself every day'
Johnson discusses his love of being a Dodgers owner, hopes for the team and fans
LOS ANGELES -- It was Earvin "Magic" Johnson bobblehead night at Dodger Stadium on Thursday as the Dodgers faced the Giants.
The Hall of Fame basketball star looks both a little out of place and resplendent in a white uniform top with the traditional blue-scripted "Dodgers" embossed across the chest and a blue cap perched on his head. In his right hand, he's palming a basketball-sized baseball.
"I can't believe this," he said with his characteristic smile and laugh.
Johnson won five NBA titles with the Lakers, helping revolutionize the game as a 6-foot-9 point guard. Now he's helping the Dodgers rebuild one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball as an ownership partner.
Want more symmetry? The last of Johnson's Lakers titles came in 1988. The last Dodgers' World Series title was won later that same year. The Boys in Blue are close to clinching the National League West, in this, Johnson's first full season as a member of the ownership team.
Johnson was joined on his big night by former Lakers teammates Michael Cooper and Mychal Thompson. All three played on the team that won back-to-back championships in 1987 and '88. A video of Johnson's heroics on the basketball court was a backdrop to the ceremonies, as Johnson told the cheering crowd what is important now:
"A World Series ring!"
Cooper and Thompson each threw out a first pitch from the rubber and -- seemingly without effort -- over the plate. Johnson fed them the ball. Just like the old days.
MLB.com caught up with Johnson to talk about his life and the Dodgers on the field for a few minutes before the game.
MLB.com: How much fun is this, Earvin?
Johnson: You can't describe how much fun it is. First of all, to know that you are part-owner of the Dodgers, it just blows you away. I still pinch myself every day. I just can't believe it, you know? And then to have half a season last season, make nine changes [on the field] in a little bit more than half a season, and this season start off slow and now to be in first, playing some solid and good baseball -- this is all we wanted. We wanted it all for the fans and for the players.
MLB.com: The last thing I expected during your basketball days was to be interviewing you as an owner of the Dodgers.
Johnson (laughing): How do you think I feel? I didn't know, either. You know, it's amazing, I'll tell you.
MLB.com: Well, how did you feel watching the old basketball footage of you playing for the Lakers on the video board tonight? Those were great, great Lakers championship teams in the 1980s.
Johnson: Oh, that was so much fun just now. It brought me back. It brought Coop back and Mychal back. Because when you think about it, all we have is old memories of those times. And to hear the fans appreciate it and enjoy it, too -- it was awesome.
MLB.com: How far do you think the Dodgers can go?
Johnson: I think as far as the pitching and hitting will take us, and our defense. But I'll put our first three starters up against any other three guys in the National League. Pitching-wise, to me, we're the best with those two or three guys.
MLB.com: How many things are you doing right now in your business and public life?
Johnson: Right now, I'm doing a lot, but all the rest of it comes to a standstill and a halt while this is going on. I'm hoping we close this thing out and we get ready for the playoffs and my whole calendar is cleared out for nothing except baseball in October.
MLB.com: Then you go right back to the NBA?
Johnson: I go back to the NBA. I do ESPN and my other businesses.
MLB.com: Do you still have the Magic Johnson movie theaters?
Johnson: I had them, but they're gone now. They sold them. I have other companies. But the good thing is I have good people who are running them day-to-day.
MLB.com: What do you think of the Lakers? What's your prognosis of them going forward?
Johnson: I think for the Lakers, there's actually less pressure on them because there are no high expectations of them. I think coach [Mike] D'Antoni says, "Hey, I got the team that I want" in terms of a faster, quicker team. So let's see if he can work better with them than the big team he had last season. And then, the question is, will they play defense this year? Because I know the Lakers can score. All of us know that. But where they got beat last season was in rebounding and on defense.
MLB.com: Stan Kasten was a young general manager of the Atlanta Hawks when you were a rookie back in 1979-80. What's it like to have him working with you as Dodgers president? It's amazing how this all comes back around.
Johnson: I know. He offered me the Hawks head coaching job a long time ago and I turned him down. I had my half-season, my little stint doing that with the Lakers. I never wanted to be a coach. This is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is want I want to do and that's own. I think Stan is the perfect guy for the Dodgers, for Los Angeles, for running this team. He built the Braves, he built the Washington Nationals. Every year the Braves were contending for the World Series. That's the kind of guy we want to be working with.
MLB.com: Did you ever play baseball when you were a kid back in Michigan?
Johnson: One day. I went out for one day. I couldn't hit a curve, a fastball or a slider. (Laughs.) And I quit.
MLB.com: So that was the extent of your playing career. What's your expertise in baseball?
Johnson: I'm a fan, that's it. (More laughter.) I'm not going to lie. I'm just a fan.
MLB.com: How much time do you put into the Dodgers on a day-to-day basis?
Johnson: Well, day to day, I work the suites, the sponsors, sometimes the players want me to have conversations with them. I do a lot of that. But day to day, that's Stan, that's [executive vice presidents] Lon [Rosen] and Bob [Wolfe], that's all of those guys day to day.
MLB.com: I know Matt Kemp said he wanted to play you one-on-one in basketball. Did that ever happen?
Johnson: No, and I don't know if he'll ever get a chance because he keeps getting hurt. I told him, "After the season we'll play." But I don't know if I want to play because I don't want to be responsible for getting him hurt.
MLB.com: How are you feeling? You're still one of the world's most visible HIV patients and have been quite an example to everyone who has contracted the disease.
Johnson: Thank you. I just had my physical last week. I got high, high marks everywhere, so everything is good. It's a blessing. You have empathy with people and their problems because you understand what they're going through. You've lived it and survived it yourself. I'm taking my meds. I'm working out. I have a good attitude. So everything is good. Its been 22 years. Man.
MLB.com: Your prediction: Do the Dodgers win the World Series?
Johnson: Well, I'm not predicting that right now. As an owner you just hope that they just get there. I think we have the team that can get there. We just have to go out and prove it out on the field.