Magic Johnson's contract has its own magical aura
Los Angeles — Something new has been added to the financial records of all-star guard Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers -- a $25 million contract that covers 25 years. Broken down, based on a five-day, 40-hour week, Magic's figures amount to $83,333 a month; $19,230 a week; and $10,000 a game (based on 100 pre-season, regular-season, and playoff games).
The first thing I asked myself when I heard about Johnson's contract, which doesn't take effect until 1984, was how something like this comes about. Why would owner Jerry Buss of the Lakers be willing to make that kind of a commitment to anyone, regardless of his talent?
"What happened is that Magic came to Jerry a few weeks ago and told him that he'd like to be part of the Lakers' organization forever," said Bob Steiner, who heads up Buss's publicity staff." Johnson wanted a long-term contract and that was OK with Jerry, except that Buss needed time to come up with a figure because of the inflation factor.
"I'm not sure how the two of them arrived at $25 million," Steiner continued. "At his point I wouldn't say the contract is any bargain for Buss, but it's not a bad contract either, because who would have thought five years ago that some NBA coaches would be getting paid in six figures?
"In fact, I don't think the day is too far off in pro sports when some players will be signing multiyear contracts for $6 and $8 million. A player like Johnson, especially if he were to become a free agent, would have to be put in that category. So if you look at the situation from that angle, this could turn out to be a very good deal for Buss."
Even though Magic won't be 22 until August, his playing career obviously will end long before the year 2009. so the Lakers must have something else in mind for Johnson that probably will involve the team's front office.
The Los Angeles Times recently quoted Buss as saying: "Magic is a bright kid and I plan to make him my protege, teach him the business aspects of sports. I realize this is a very unusual contract because we're talking about a kid whose college class has just graduated. But what it really comes down to is that Magic is part of the family.
"Consider this: 14 years from now the average secretary -- not good ones, mind you, but average -- will be making $60,000 a year. So Magic's services as coach or general manager or whatever direction we mutually choose to take, are worth at least a million a year to me."
When Steiner was asked to comment on Buss's quotes, he replied: "I don't know how serious Jerry was when he talked about Magic someday becoming the Lakers' coach or general manager. But I think anyone will agree that Magic is the kind of person who could grow into any job."
To appreciate the effect Johnson has on people, you have to be around him. He is a personality kid who is always upbeat; who always sees the sun, even when there isn't any; and who brought the Lakers a world title in his rookie season ( 1979-80).
While that might appear to be a rather extravagant statement, considering that seven-footer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays center for L.A., Magic unlocked the intangibles that turned the Lakers from a group of individuals into a team.
Then in the deciding game of the NBA playoff finals in 1980 against the Philadelphia 76ers, when Abdul-Jabbar was injured and never left his home, Johnson did something that no one had ever done before.
Magic played part of the game at center; part at forward; and part at guard; scoring 42 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, tops for both teams. He was also 14 -for-14 at the foul line, suggesting a complete absence of pressure.
Buss, who got his start in real estate and probably knows as much about creative financing as anyone, is a collector of sports franchises and enjoys the social company of pro athletes. Jerry's three sports franchises are the Lakers (basketball); Kings (ice hockey); and the Strings (World Team Tennis).
Several months ago Buss spent $5.4 million buying Pickfair, the 42-room mansion of movie star Mary Pickford, which sits on 2.7 acres of land in Beverly Hills.
According to Steiner, Jerry is spending somewhere in the vacinity of $1 million on structural changes, new wiring, plumbing, and landscaping.However, there is nothing to the rumor that Magic has the gold key to the guest room.