Los Angeles Dodgers players are already under the spell of Magic Johnson, the NBA icon whose ownership group won the auction for the bankrupt baseball club with a US$2 billion bid on Tuesday.
“I think it’s tight, man,” said centerfielder Matt Kemp, whose eight-year, US$160 million contract — inked last November — makes him the highest-paid Dodger in history.
“For Magic to be one of our owners, he knows what the Dodgers mean to LA,” Kemp said in an article from the team’s spring training base in Arizona and posted on the team’s Web site. “Magic is real important to LA. The fans love him. To get him to be part of the organization, it’s a pretty good day for the Dodgers.”
Kemp said he was skeptical when he heard the first reports of the sale on Tuesday night, when it was announced that Johnson, Guggenheim Partners and Stan Kasten were heading a group buying the club from Frank McCourt.
Kemp told MLB.com he was at a Phoenix Suns NBA game when his phone “started blowing up.”
“I thought everybody was playing around,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was real until I got texts from important people.”
Johnson led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles before his retirement in 1991 after announcing he was HIV-positive. He made brief comebacks, one as coach of the Lakers, before becoming a successful businessman.
Outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr told the Los Angeles Times he was thrilled to have his club part-owned by a sportsman that he grew up idolizing.
“I’m pumped,” Gwynn said.
The sale of the club must still be confirmed by the US Bankruptcy Court in a hearing on April 13. The transaction is set to close by April 30, the same day McCourt must pay his ex-wife US$131 million in a divorce settlement.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who pushed for McCourt to sell the club and charged McCourt’s financial mismanagement had damaged a storied baseball institution, welcomed the announcement of the sale.
“I believe that a man of Magic’s remarkable stature and experience can play an integral role for one of the game’s most historic franchises, in a city where he is revered,” Selig said in a statement on Wednesday. “Major League Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities, and Magic Johnson is a living embodiment of so many of the ideals that are vital to our game and its future.”
While some pundits have already questioned the record-setting price for the club, along with an additional US$150 million for Dodger Stadium, Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano said the price includes a wealth of intangibles.
“The brand of the Dodgers, it’s hard to put a price tag on it,” he told MLB.com. “You know that’s pretty subjective. I can’t speak to the financial side. I do know a lot of people in Magic’s group get it. Magic is such an iconic figure. It’s fitting. I think it feels right.”