Months After Signing $25M Bounty, Magic Johnson Threatened to Exit the Lakers if Not for 1 Massive Firing in 1981

Published 01/25/2023, 5:30 PM EST
File photo of Magic Johnson (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

There are only a few NBA superstars in history who were more than just players. Magic Johnson is arguably a mention in that category. The five-time champion changed the game forever, Apart from being the first oversized point guard, his sensational passing skills won over millions. The NBA became a hub for basketball fans all around the world. And Magic was the spearhead of it all. Likewise, in 1981, he signed a contract that then was unheard of. A $25 million extension with the Los Angeles Lakers However, just a few months in, trouble brewed which nearly drove him away from LA.

Johnson played for the Lakers his entire career. In his rookie season, the three-time MVP showed the NBA just what was to come. With Kareem-Abdul Jabbar injured, the 6’8″ guard played at center. In a series clincher against his idol Julius Erving, Johnson exploded for 42 points, 7 a,ssists and 15 rebounds. His exceptional show on the grandest stage earned him Finals MVP honors.

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Likewise, he became the focal point of the Showtime offense. However, after a poor run in the playoffs due to injury, head coach Paul Westhead changed the system. Notably, the fast-paced offense in LA diminished under his reign. Just months after his ludicrous 25-year deal, Johnson said he couldn’t play with the Lakers anymore.

Historic contract couldn’t stop Magic Johnson from publicly asking for a trade

Westhead’s offense carried over in the 1981-82 season, the year Johnson signed his contract. Likewise, the NBA Hall of Famer reached a boiling point. It was now or never for the generational point guard. After a win against Utah, he told New York Times, “I can’t play here anymore”. He asked to be traded away from the Lakers. Johnson left Buss with a choice, to either trade him or fire Westhead.

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Only two days later, the owner made his decision. He fired Westhead. Pat Riley took over the empty spot and gave a berth to the Showtime Lakers once again.

LOS ANGELES, CA Spring, 1991 –– Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson, right, is guarded by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 NBA Finals in Los Angeles. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Many fans went against Johnson due to his public eruption on Westhead. However, his way of playing the game won them over once again. Riley gave Johnson the freedom to run the offense his way. Misdirecting his opponents and making the most cinematic passes, the five-time champion dominated the NBA. The Lakers won another championship that season. Moreover, they wrote their name on four titles under Riley’s reign in the 1980s.

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Johnson’s outburst might not have been the most professional way. However, as far as his career goes, Magic never left LA. Moreover, he made the NBA one of the biggest sports leagues. All in all, venting out arguably became one of the integral moments of his illustrious career.

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Anuj Talwalkar

1727 articles

Anuj Talwalkar is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. He is a student studying at NM College in Mumbai, aspiring to pursue sports management to follow his love for sports. Anuj started following the NBA last year, and he loves to combine his passion for writing with his understanding of basketball.

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