Magic Johnson went scorched earth on the Lakers’ power structure and GM Rob Pelinka one month after abruptly retiring as team president

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On “First Take,” Magic Johnson was critical of the structure within the Lakers.
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via ESPN

  • Magic Johnson gave a stunningly honest interview on ESPN’s “First Take” about why he resigned as president of the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • Johnson said the Lakers’ general manager, Rob Pelinka, had backstabbed him, telling people that Johnson wasn’t working hard enough.
  • Johnson accused Pelinka of “betrayal” and said other agents had warned him years ago not to trust Pelinka.
  • Johnson also criticized the structure within the Lakers, saying too many people had influential voices around the team owner Jeanie Buss.
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Just over one month after abruptly resigning as president of the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” and criticized the Lakers’ general manager, Rob Pelinka.

Johnson on Monday doubled down on what he told reporters during the Lakers’ season finale, which was that he was unhappy in his role as team president. He said on “First Take” that Pelinka was one of the reasons.

“I started hearing, ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough.’ ‘Magic’s not in the office,'” Johnson said. “So people around the Lakers office was telling me Rob was saying things, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back.”

When Johnson resigned in April, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Johnson was seen as not putting in enough hours to be president of basketball operations.

Johnson on Monday said he told the Lakers owner Jeanie Buss before taking the job that he would continue running his other businesses and thus would have limited hours at times.

Read more: It’s becoming clear that nobody on the Lakers knew about or expected Magic Johnson’s abrupt resignation, and few have seen anything like it

Rob Pelinka, the Lakers' general manager, with the team's owner Jeanie Buss.

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Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, with the team’s owner Jeanie Buss.
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Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

When Johnson resigned in April, he told reporters that he grew tired of what he called “backstabbing” that came with the position. On Monday, he called out Pelinka by name.

“Just Rob. Other people didn’t bother me,” Johnson said, adding: “What happened was, I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore, especially when I gotta work beside you, knowing you want my position.”

Johnson accused Pelinka of “betrayal.”

He said that he had been planning on working as team president for only three years and wanted to prepare Pelinka to take his job when he left but that as the rumors about his work ethic began to circle back to him, he had second thoughts.

“When I took the job, you know how many agents called me and said, ‘You gotta watch out for him,'” Johnson said on Monday. “I said: ‘Eh, I gotta give the guy a fair chance. I can’t listen to people.’

Johnson also criticized the Lakers’ power structure, saying there were too many voices of influence around Buss.

Johnson used the decision to fire the head coach Luke Walton as an example. Johnson said he wanted to fire Walton and made it known. He said that he had three meetings with Buss to discuss it and that after the second meeting they decided to fire Walton. But during the third meeting, Johnson said, Buss told him they should find a way to work it out with Walton and repair the situation.

Johnson said that multiple others including the Lakers’ chief operating officer, Tim Harris, were brought into the meeting and that Harris wanted to keep Walton.

“I looked up and I said, wait a minute, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss,” Johnson said. “Now I got Tim involved. And I said, ‘It’s time for me to go.'”

Johnson described the setup as having “too many people at the table.”

“I didn’t like that Tim Harris was too involved in basketball,” Johnson said. “He’s supposed to run the Lakers’ business. But he was trying to come over to our side.

“Jeanie’s got to stop that. You got to stop having those voices. It’s too many people at the table. What happens is, everybody gets to share their opinion, and it’s so much information coming at [Buss] that when I say, ‘Hey we have to do this,’ she can’t make a decision because they’re saying, ‘No, don’t go the way Magic is going.'”

Read more: The Lakers’ offseason is turning into a disaster, and the franchise is nearing a tipping point

Despite Johnson’s criticisms of the structure, he also reiterated his belief that the team was headed in the right direction. He noted the team had LeBron James and said that he believed in the team’s young core of players and that if the team could land a top free agent this offseason, it would be back in the playoff hunt.

Johnson repeatedly said on “First Take” that he didn’t have any regrets about taking the job, how things went, or how he left. He also said he didn’t hold grudges against Pelinka or anyone else and called himself a Laker for life.