Magic Johnson's name has always been in lights, but now the marquee is burning brighter. The Hall of Fame basketball player is preparing for his new role as part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's also in town promoting the new Broadway show, "Magic/Bird," which chronicles his rivalry and ultimate friendship with former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird.
Johnson, 52, is the very public face of the Dodgers' new ownership, headed by the Guggenheim Group, who agreed to pay a record $2.15 billion to Frank McCourt for the team. The deal is expected to close this month.
Last week, Johnson had a front-row seat, next to the dugout, and cheered loudly for the Dodgers as they opened the season in San Diego. Monday, he was at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, once operated by former Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, who is notorious for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
"It's great, we're 3-1 right now," Johnson said of the Dodgers. "I'm happy about the way they are playing and the response from all Dodgers fans from around the country and the world. It's been very positive."
The blockbuster price for the Dodgers, sports economists have said, will elevate the worth of other big-market MLB teams. "The marketplace dictated the value," Johnson said.
He flashed that trademark smile and laughed heartily when asked about his supposed newfound interest in baseball. "I grew up a Tigers fan," the Michigan native said before rattling off a litany of past Detroit players. "Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Aurelio Rodriguez, Willie Horton, Gates Brown, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich. The Tigers were my team. I cheered for all of them."
While his financial investment in the Dodgers is said to be small, his involvement could be significant. Longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, who will be the Dodgers' CEO and president, said of Johnson, "He's going to be there with suite sales, sponsorship sales, community relations programs. He's going to be there with players and prospective players. He's going to be there with civic leaders. I can't tell you the hours and the days, but I know he's going to be there."
Kasten said Johnson was a key ingredient in McCourt's decision to sell the team to the Guggenheim Group. "His L.A. identity, passion, dedication to fans," Kasten said. "When you have Magic embodying that, it kind of seals the deal, puts the seal of approval on us. When you are in this city and you are with Magic, it's extraordinary, it's royalty. Every door opens, everyone is available to you. It's a big world out there and he's conquering all of it."
With five NBA titles from his years with the Lakers, Johnson has another goal: winning a World Series. "It would be amazing if we were able to do that," he said. "That's the dream when you buy a team like the Dodgers. You want to get them back to the place of winning a World Series. So that would be the ultimate."
Johnson will be in the audience Wednesday night for the opening of "Magic/Bird." "I'm nervous and excited," he said. "I think Larry and I are still in disbelief that they are doing a play about us. This is the first time I've been portrayed by anyone. It's a scary feeling when you are sitting there and somebody is saying Magic or Earvin and you are sitting there watching them."
Kevin Daniels, the actor who plays Johnson, said the former athlete was extremely cooperative in allowing Daniels to delve into his life on and off the court. "The first thing he said to me is, 'My life's an open book.' I said, 'I know. I've read it.' "