February 06, 2014
By DOUG FEINBERG
Magic Johnson was back at the Staples Center, dishing an assist to the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
The former Lakers great is part of a group buying the Sparks and keeping league MVP Candace Parker and the team in LA.
“The leaders of this great city came together quickly to keep this franchise right where it belongs — in the city of Angels,” Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday outside Staples Center. “Thanks to my sister, Evelyn, playing college basketball, I have a great appreciation of the talented players that represent the WNBA. Our group will now work together to bring our loyal fans another WNBA championship.”
Johnson is joined in the ownership group by Mark Walter, the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and co-owners Todd L. Boehly, Robert L. Patton and Stan Kasten. The WNBA and NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved the purchase of the Sparks by the ownership group.
“We’re totally thrilled,” WNBA President Laurel Richie told The Associated Press. “When Magic chooses to enter into a partnership with a WNBA team, that's a great thing. He’s a legend within basketball. He’s very knowledgeable about the game. He’s a larger-than-life personality. He’s an extremely successful business man. He cares about the community the way that the WNBA does.”
Johnson and Walter teamed with a group of investors to buy the Dodgers in 2012 for a record $2 billion and combined with outgoing owner Frank McCourt to buy land surrounding Dodger Stadium for $150 million.
It will be the same group owning the Sparks, minus Peter Guber, who owns a stake in the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
Richie said Walter and Johnson discussed the idea on a cross-country flight and by the time they landed on the West Coast they had decided they wanted to own the Sparks.
“Earvin came to me and said we need to help save the Sparks and keep them in Los Angeles,” Walter said. “The decision was quite easy for our investment group due to the passion Magic has for this city, these great athletes and our phenomenal fans. This team and its great players should remain a part of the sports fabric of this wonderful city.”
Previous Sparks owner Paula Madison informed the league in late December that she wouldn't be able to run the team. She told The Associated Press that her family had lost $12 million, including $1.4 million last season, operating the franchise since buying it from the Buss family in 2007.
Johnson was a part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers for a decade before selling his share in 2011.
While the franchise hasn’t been successful financially, the Sparks have been one of the WNBA's best teams on the court and led the league in attendance the past two seasons. They won WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002 and made it to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. They were knocked out in the opening round by Phoenix last season.
Los Angeles, one of only four original WNBA franchises left, also has one of the league’s marquee players in Parker. She led the team with an average of 25.7 points last season. She’s joined by All-Stars Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver, who headline a talented roster.
Parker tweeted her reaction on Wednesday: “Words cant describe how pumped I am. I aspire to do what youve done @Magic Johnson win championshipS.”
Former LA star Lisa Leslie and coach Carol Ross also attended the announcement with Johnson at the Staples Center.
“I do know they were very attracted to this team not just because they were in L.A. and their incredible history, but also their performance over the last few years,” Richie said. “The players, Candace being MVP, Carol being Coach of the Year, their knowledge and experience — they recognize what an incredible franchise it is at this moment.”