Los Angeles Mag-uars? It could happen

Posted Oct. 20, 2010 @ 3:33 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

You might have read this week that Magic Johnson has sold his minority shares of the Los Angeles Lakers — plus his 105 Starbucks franchises — in a move that has some people scratching their collective heads.

Word prior to this had Johnson wanting to buy more shares of the Lakers and become more of an ownership presence.

So why the transaction, which liquidated more than $100 million for Johnson?

I have an idea, and it's not about Johnson buying another NBA team.

Magic just might want to get his hands on the Golden Fleece of sports, and that's the NFL.

Think about it. Magic. Los Angeles. An NFL team. It's not hard to connect those three things.

The league has not shied away the past few years from the idea of a team returning to the country's second-largest market — all you have to do is watch this past season of "Entourage" to know that — and it just so happens that there are a couple of NFL franchises that are in danger of becoming irrelevant in their respective markets.

One is the Buffalo Bills. Another is the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I have always been suspicious of a Bills-to-L.A. move for little other reason than it just doesn't seem right. I think it's a franchise in need of life support, and the team's new front office and coaching staff hasn't provided that injection to date. And might never. But a star quarterback (Andrew Luck?) and a rock-star coach/figure head (Bill Parcells? Just saying ...) could reinvigorate the life of a proud and historic team. Most NFL diehards would love to see football remain relevant in Buffalo.

But what about Jacksonville? It's the NFL's distant-cousin franchise, a lightly supported team with little long-term marketing legs (despite the full-court press they've put on this season) or a business plan that could keep it afloat. As far as the NFL landscape is concerned, the Jaguars are a peninsula, jutting out in some choppy waters.

What better life raft, then, than Magic and Los Angeles?

I know, I know. Media have tried to make this connection for years, without success, and there are several barriers for a team to relocate. But what a whopper this would be.

As far as concerning the NFL's tightly knit circle of owners, which can be as secretive as the Freemasons at times, adding a public figure to their sanctum might require some convincing.

But the Billionaire Boys Club often suffers from image problems, especially as it digs in its heels to wage war with the NFL players and their union over a new labor agreement. Adding Johnson to the mix might be just the fabric softener the owners need. He's a beloved figure in and out of L.A. with a smile that can cash a thousand checks and a personality to match.

He's also a damned good businessman. Nearly everything he touches does better afterwards. Some have speculated that his recent sell-off has been for tax purposes, and I have no doubt it was. But the precisely timed transaction also might serve another purpose.

Johnson's camp has let word out that he is kicking the tires of ventures "in sports," which certainly leaves the door open for a bid into NFL ownership. Although the labor troubles and the threat of the union decertifying could put L.A. on the backburner, there also are enough positive signs that an NFL team could land there sometime in the next 4-5 years, if not sooner.

There has been significant progress towards building a stadium at the City of Industry site, and in what has to be an absolute coincidence, real estate magnate Ed Roski Jr. and his Majestic Reality team have launched a new website in the past 24 hours to jumpstart the idea of a team moving his way. The 600-acre site is within reach of 57 of Los Angeles' 60 major freeways, and in Roski's mind all roads point to an NFL team landing there eventually.

Any ownership group fronted by Johnson truly would be a Majestic (Magestic?) endeavor. Don't overlook the power of a good name, either.

Plus, if the owners could be convinced that Johnson's Magic touch could give them another friendly face and savvy businessman to slide even more influence and favor towards their group, they would approve Magic Inc. in a second.

The NFL wants to continue to grow, naturally. It wants to hold its perch as the No. 1 sport, even with no real threat to knock it off. (Have you seen the baseball TV ratings? And the NBA must first pass baseball to even have a chance of going after football in the next, oh, 25 years.)

So tell me why this wouldn't be a match made in heaven?

I am sure there are folks in Jacksonville who would protest the move, including the Team Teal outfit that is trying to keep the club in town, but what footing do they have really? Owner Wayne Weaver must know on some level his team never truly will succeed in North Florida, and the castle-in-the-sky idea of a Magic-owned L.A. group only would increase Weaver's return in a sale.

This is not a deal that will happen tomorrow. It might not even happen in the next year. But until Magic indicates which direction he is heading, speculation will grow. Although the NFL probably can't fast-track a Magic-L.A. connection before the labor discussions get really serious, the idea could float out there enough before Super Bowl XLV, which is when all this labor talk will reach its first real zenith.

Does anyone lose in this arrangement? Magic gets an NFL team in a huge market. The league gets a celebrity owner whom people adore. His fellow owners would get a franchise that would print money its first five years and avoid subsidy, lessening any kind of revenue-sharing concerns. And what player wouldn't want to play for Johnson?

Don't be shocked if this happens. It's too enticing not to think about.