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Magic Johnson denies allegations in ESPN story that he mistreated Lakers employees

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 5/29/2019 Steve Gardner
a close up of Magic Johnson © Provided by USA Today Sports Media Group LLC

Speaking to a pair of former co-workers at ESPN, Magic Johnson on Tuesday refuted allegations published earlier in the day in an ESPN.com story that he repeatedly berated and mistreated employees during his two years as president of the Los Angeles Lakers. 

After ESPN host Stephen A. Smith summarized the "behind-the-scenes turmoil" the report detailed in the Lakers front office, Johnson issued a blanket denial.

"I never sat in an HR person's office for 35 years," Johnson said. "Do you think (Lakers owner) Jeanie Buss will allow me to abuse employees? If that was the case she would have called me in. ... It never happened."

While no complaints were ever filed against Johnson for unprofessional workplace behavior, several employees told ESPN they didn't feel comfortable going to the team's human resources department for fear of being reprimanded.

Management style questioned

The ESPN.com report cited nearly two dozen current and former team staffers, along with others close to the team, describing an organization in which dysfunction ran rampant and fear was the primary motivator.

In the past two years, 37.5% of the team's front office employees are no longer with the organization, according to the report.

"A lot of Laker employees didn't like that I held them accountable. That's what my job was," Johnson said. "Did I have to fire some people? Yes, because we had to bring about change and get better."  

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Opinion: In trying to clear air, Magic Johnson sullies himself, Los Angeles Lakers

Johnson also took offense at allegations that he was perhaps less interested in the Lakers than in his other business ventures. Some staffers told ESPN that Johnson would sometimes appear in the office only once a week or every two weeks. 

"Lazy? I have built a $600 million business," he countered. "You can not be lazy going from playing basketball and winning five championships – so I wasn't lazy as a player. And I'm not lazy as a CEO and business owner. That's never gonna happen."

Magic looks back

Asked by Wilbon if he would have done anything differently, Johnson said he "would have hired my own people from the beginning."

Both Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have acknowledged the strained relationship they had. Johnson also inherited head coach Luke Walton, who "mutually agreed" to part ways with the team at the end of this season. 

Still, Johnson insisted he remains "a person who brings everybody together," listing his business relationships with corporations such as Starbucks, Sony, Sodexo and his involvement with the Guggenheim Group, which owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Nobody has ever called me and said Magic mistreated an employee. And that would never happen," he said.

"I know the truth. Jeanie knows the truth because if I had disrespected somebody, she would have called me into her office. And that never happened."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Magic Johnson denies allegations in ESPN story that he mistreated Lakers employees

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