Frank McCourt just recorded one of the greatest assists in sports history.
He passed to Magic Johnson.
Sure, there were other names on the news release: Mark R. Walter is the controlling partner with Guggenheim Baseball Management. Well-known sports executive Stan Kasten is one of the limited partners, along with Peter Guber, Bobby Patton and Todd Boehly.
Great. Congratulations to them all. But this is one instance when it is appropriate to set the specifics aside for a moment. All of those names won’t fit on a scrolling marquee in Times Square, which is where this headline belongs.
Read those words again.
Frank McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers to Magic Johnson.
Let the people rejoice.
I remember walking around Dodger Stadium during the first weekend of last year’s regular season, within 48 hours of the brutal attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow. I spoke with Dodgers fans who were embarrassed by McCourt’s actions, who felt unsafe at the ballpark, who saw nothing but losses and lawsuits in their team’s immediate future.
If I had told them Magic Johnson would be their owner in one year’s time, they would have kissed me.
Doesn’t this feel bigger than a sports story, even more important than Opening Day 2012? (That’s technically next week, by the way, although the Mariners and A’s are playing Wednesday and Thursday in Japan.) Johnson said in a statement that he wants to “drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles.”
Oops. Miscalculation. Magic actually drove the Dodgers to the A block of every news program in America . . . and then dished to Worthy.
Magic has been fresh in our minds for weeks now. There was the mesmerizing ESPN documentary about the day he told the world he was HIV-positive. There was his annual appearance at a Michigan State NCAA tournament game. There’s even a Broadway show about the relationship between Magic and longtime friend and rival Larry Bird. He’s part of the American consciousness, largely because we want him to be there. His mere presence is inspiring and reassuring at the same time. Even if it’s a quick glimpse on TV, we say to ourselves, ‘He still looks good. Man, that’s great to see.’
And now, in the giddy epilogue to that wrenching November day 20 years ago, he has come to rescue the Dodgers.
For many in L.A., this comeback may resonate in an even more powerful way than his 32-game stint with the Lakers during the ’95-’96 season. That was a farewell, the chance for a quick-yet-heartfelt goodbye on his terms. This is different. It’s an open-ended promise to win while building good will — which is sort of Magic’s specialty. He’s a uniter. And if there was ever a fan base in need of such healing, it is that of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
I did not grow up rooting for the Dodgers. But after the news broke late Tuesday, I called a friend who did. “Shock and glee,” she said. “I haven’t even gotten to crying yet. This is the best possible thing that could have happened.”
Beyond that, Major League Baseball needs him. The sport does not have enough minority owners — and no black majority owners. The game has lost popularity among African-Americans. MLB has tried to expand its outreach, with the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and Urban Youth Academy. With all due respect to those efforts, the smile of Earvin Johnson is now the best marketing tool in baseball’s arsenal.
A word here about McCourt: Even though he’s walking away with a huge profit — the purchase price was a whopping $2.15 billion; he bought the team in 2004 for $430 million — he is no longer the most vilified sports figure in L.A. The perception that he used the Dodgers as an ATM, along with the reality that he drove them into bankruptcy, will never go away. He never will be liked by Dodgers fans. But he is selling the team to Magic.
From this day forward, when Dodgers fans see Frank McCourt around town, the word before “you” will be “thank.”