- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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At a time when Major League Baseball wants to restore the Los Angeles Dodgers' brand following years of damage under the ownership of Frank McCourt, Earvin "Magic" Johnson -- arguably the most popular athlete in the city's history -- is a major player in a group that wants to buy the team.
"I'm a big baseball fan," Johnson said by phone Friday, "and you think about what the Dodgers have meant to baseball and to Los Angeles, and that part's a no-brainer. ... I've been to that place [Dodger Stadium] hundreds and hundreds of times."
Johnson was approached about a month ago by Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals -- someone Johnson has known for about 30 years, and who once offered him a job to coach the Atlanta Hawks.
Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a private global financial services firm, is the money muscle behind the group, which is called Guggenheim Baseball Management. According to a fact sheet about the group, Guggenheim Partners has more than $125 billion in assets under management.
As Johnson described it, their ownership of the Dodgers -- if it happens -- would work this way: Walter would write the big checks; Kasten would oversee the baseball operations; and Johnson, who recently sold his ownership share of the Los Angeles Lakers, would work as a president or vice president on both the business side and in recruiting players, when needed.
"I want to win," said Johnson, who met with six groups of potential bidders for the Dodgers before joining forces with Walter and Kasten. "We want to win. Not only do we have the guy who can write the check to buy the team, but we have to have somebody who can acquire quality people and talent, and Stan knows how to do that better than anybody. ... We've got a great plan."
Johnson amicably left his ownership position with the Lakers in October 2010, selling his 4.5 percent equity stake to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in what's widely thought to be a wildly lucrative transaction for the former Lakers point guard.
Major League Baseball has shaped ownership groups in the past, picking someone from one bidding group and coupling that person with another. With the Dodgers going through bankruptcy court, though, the process for purchasing the club is expected to be more draconian, and based more on financial might than the whims of MLB. After a small group of potential buyers is selected for auction, the winner is likely to be based on which group submits the highest bid.
The sale process for the Dodgers could begin as soon as next week, when financial details of the team will be released to prospective buyers. The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's editions that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban intends to bid for the Dodgers.
Johnson, 52, played 13 seasons for the Lakers and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He has been an enormously successful businessman since retiring, and has always had a passion for baseball, from his first days playing the game as a gangly first baseman in his home state of Michigan, to the days when he followed the Detroit Tigers.
To this day, he ticks off the names of Tigers players as if he were talking about family relatives -- and to the days when he played for the Lakers and attended games at Dodger Stadium.
"People forget -- when I was here [as a player], that was in the heyday of the Dodgers, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey," Johnson said. "I used to go to their games, and they'd come to our games. They were the one organization that everybody talked about. We want to bring us back to that.
"The timing is excellent. We have the right owner, the right baseball man in Stan. I live here, I love it here. We want to make sure fans are safe, and we want to give them a great experience. It might take us a little time, but we want to win."
The Lakers would love to see Johnson with a large ownership role in the Dodgers. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak regularly speaks with Johnson, who has said he'll never leave his influential role behind the scenes with the Lakers and the Buss family.
"I know he's sitting on a pile of cash, which is maybe why I take his calls as often as I do," Kupchak said Friday. "He's been incredibly supportive as an owner. Never once did he say, 'Mitch, this is what you should do.' He would be a great owner (of the Dodgers)."
Johnson intends to reach out to baseball commissioner Bud Selig sometime after the winter meetings, he said, to talk about his interest in owning the Dodgers.
Johnson noted that baseball's free-agency period already has begun, but that next fall, as a Dodgers owner, "at 12:01 a.m., I'd be on the phone" calling the next players the Dodgers would want to target.
"This is going to be fun," he said.
The full list of bidders for the Dodgers is still unclear, but it will be studded with accomplished businessmen and famous athletes who realize a cash machine is sitting up in Chavez Ravine for the proper ownership.
Along with Cuban, former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley is in the mix. Former Dodgers Garvey and Orel Hershiser have been vocal about pursuing the club, while former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso, supermarket mogul Ron Burkle and former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano have been linked to the bidding.
The price likely will break the record for a baseball franchise, topping the $845 million paid by the Ricketts family for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.
Johnson, along with two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, is part owner of the Class-A Dayton Dragons.
Senior writer Buster Olney covers Major League Baseball for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
At a time when MLB wants to restore the Dodgers' brand after years of damage under the ownership of Frank McCourt, Earvin "Magic" Johnson is a major player in a group that wants to buy the team.