Magic Johnson to own part of Sparks

Updated: February 5, 2014, 4:23 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPN.com

Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter have partnered to buy the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, saving the struggling franchise from relocation or contraction, WNBA president Laurel Richie has confirmed.

The new Sparks ownership group also includes Dodgers president Stan Kasten and part owners Todd Boehly and Bobby Patton, according to sources.

"Their knowledge of L.A., their passion for sports in L.A., it's just a great thing," WNBA president Laurel Richie told ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel. "I could say it a million times: We are truly, truly excited."

A news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The Sparks, one of the original eight WNBA franchises, have been in limbo since Christmas when their previous owner, Paula Madison, abruptly told the league and Sparks coaches and employees that her company could no longer operate the team. Madison subsequently told The Associated Press that her family lost $12 million operating the franchise since buying it from the Buss family in 2007 and $1.4 million last season.

[+] EnlargeMagic Johnson
Paul Spinelli/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesMagic Johnson is partnering with Dodgers chairman Mark Walter to buy the WNBA's Sparks, saving the franchise from relocation or contraction.

After Madison's announcement, the league took control of the Sparks and actively sought to find new buyers. The Golden State Warriors confirmed to espnW's Michelle Smith that they were interested in buying the Sparks and moving them to the Bay Area, which has a strong women's basketball fan base because of the success of the Stanford and California women's programs.

The Sparks and the WNBA have been in limbo ever since. It's been impossible to schedule next season without knowing the fate of the Sparks. Free agency has been stalled. Talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have been slowed.

Now that Johnson and Walter have stepped in to buy the franchise, all that can move forward and one of the WNBA's signature franchises can remain in Los Angeles.

"Everything moved relatively quickly," Richie said. "if you think about this happening in December, and close to 30 days later, being in position to announce a new ownership of this caliber. I just think that speaks volumes to who they are, how they work, and how interested they were.

"I think if you talk to both sides, who have worked pretty tirelessly for the last month, it indicates this ownership group's ability to identify an opportunity, go after it, and execute. And I'm proud of the team on our side that was able to partner with them. I think that bodes well for what we will do together in the future."

It is the second time the duo has partnered to help resurrect an L.A. franchise. Johnson and Walter teamed with a group of investors to buy the Dodgers from embattled owner Frank McCourt in 2012 for a record $2.15 billion dollars. Walter is the chairman of the Dodgers and Guggenheim Baseball Management, and CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a privately held global financial services firm that manages more than $200 billion in assets.

Since acquiring the Dodgers, Walter has approved nearly a billion dollars in new salary, including a new seven-year, $215 million deal for two-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.

The purchase of the Sparks is being made separately from Walter and Johnson's ownership of the Dodgers, according to a source.

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