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I hope Magic Johnson doesn’t join Mike Ilitch in buying the Pistons

Magic Johnson - 1979

(Lane Stewart/SI)

I’m scared of Magic Johnson.

Look at him. He’s so happy, so relaxed, so smooth. And that smile – oh, that smile.

A few years ago, I stopped at Arby’s on the way to a Michigan basketball game at Penn State. I wanted chicken strips, but they didn’t carry those anymore. So, I ordered Popcorn Chicken Shakers – a rancid replacement for chicken strips. (At the time, I didn’t know they were rancid.) A few miles after finishing my meal, I did the Technicolor yawn* onto the side of I-80. I haven’t been back to Arby’s since.

But if Magic wanted me to go to Arby’s with him? Of course, I would. I’d bat my eyes at him and extend my left leg so far toward him that the signal is no longer subtle.

*Is this phrase common? It’s listed on thesaurus.com, but I’d never heard of it prior to writing this. I’m glad I discovered it, though. Absolutely fantastic.

If you read a lot of basketball blogs, you may recognize my concerns. Prophetically, Mark Titus analyzed the Magic of Magic just a couple days ago:

In an HBO documentary that aired earlier this year, Magic explained that it wasn’t actually Earvin Johnson who routinely cheated on his wife and got HIV. It was “Magic.” Magic was the leader of the Lakers who threw behind the back passes, oozed all sorts of charisma and personality in interviews, and put his tallywhacker where it didn’t belong. Earvin was a shy kid from Michigan who was humble, respectful, and could apparently grow a kickass afro. He went on to say something like deep down he was Earvin, but fame and money had turned him into Magic. Basically, he was a victim of his own success. Poor guy.

The crazy thing about Magic’s interview was that I actually ended up feeling bad for him, even though everything he said suggested that I should have felt the exact opposite. The reason for this is because Magic is quite possibly the most likable athlete to ever live, which is why guys like me were listening to what he said and were thinking, “Wow, I never thought of it like that. Magic didn’t want to have sex with all these women, but since he was rich and famous, he had no choice.” I never once questioned his logic, because he’s Magic Johnson, and Magic Johnson could tell me that he murdered my family and destroyed every copy of FIFA ever made, and as long as he smiled and let out that hearty laugh of his, I’d probably shake his hand and tell him not to worry about it.

Magic makes a move

If you haven’t heard, Magic Johnson sold his share of the Lakers yesterday. Combined with his August comments about theoretically being interested in owning the Pistons, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Even his agent’s denial to ESPNLosAngeles.com – “Johnson’s decision to sell his stake Monday was not immediately connected to any other moves” – doesn’t prevent me from thinking there’s something to see here. “Not immediately connected” could very well be just a nice way of preserving Magic’s reputation in Los Angeles.

I have plenty of concerns, though. With all his other business interested, would Magic be properly committed to the Pistons? What does he want with the Pistons that he didn’t have with the Lakers? What would happen to Joe Dumars?

But, by far, my No. 1 concern is bringing Magic on board drastically increases Ilitch’s odds of receiving public funding for a new downtown arena, which he has made no secret about wanting.

Persuasive combo

People around here like Mike Ilitch. He’s done a great job with the Red Wings, and he’s been good with the Tigers lately. He’s invested in the area, and I think people appreciate that.

Detroit will probably build him a new arena if he buys the Pistons.

Add Magic to the mix, and there will be no stopping them. That “probably” becomes “almost definitely.”

Such an arrangement would probably be good business for Ilitch and Magic. It’s bad business for Detroit.

Detroit can’t afford to build a new arena right now.

Bilking taxpayers

I’d guess close to 100 percent of the people reading this blog have been to a Pistons game or would go to one in the new arena at some point. It’s easy for us to overrate the impact of the Pistons.

The Pistons had a combined attendance of 768,826 last season.

Metro Detroit has a population of 4,403,437. Let’s assume nobody went to a Pistons more than once, and everyone in attendance was from Metro Detroit – both obviously ludicrous assumptions, but they’ll skew the numbers away from my favor.

With those assumptions, more than 82 percent of Metro Detroiters didn’t go to a Pistons game last year. The real number is much higher.

I suspect Detroit mayor and former Piston Dave Bing is like us. I suspect he sees the Pistons as a way to make Detroit more prestigious.

With Magic in the fold, I suspect that will be a much easier argument to make.

Most certainly not the right time

When The Palace becomes obsolete in 15 years, moving downtown will make more sense. I still probably won’t support a publicly funded stadium then, but it will make a little more reasonable.

It’s unconscionable right now, but I don’t think an 81-year-old Ilitch has much interest in waiting that long.

If he gets Magic to help him, I doubt he’ll have to.


  • Oct 19, 20108:47 am
    by Zeiram


    When you started I expected this to go in another direction. Think about this is it ever good to have an executive who can sell you any decision? Magic in a decision making position has serious Isiah potential. The problem with Isiah wasn´t that he made bad decisions, everyone makes those, but that he wasn´t held accountable because he the owner completely fell for his charm. I see similar problems with Magic, even worse because he might even rope in the fans.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered Feed. PistonPowered Feed said: I hope Magic Johnson doesn’t join Mike Ilitch in buying the Pistons: (Lane Stewart/SI) I’m scared of Magic Johnson… http://bit.ly/drmEtA [...]

  • Oct 19, 201010:27 am
    by Joe


    I bet Dan Feldman lives north of 8 mile.

  • Oct 19, 201010:35 am
    by Alan


    Good job, Dan.  I also thought that you were going in a different direction with this.  One of the amazing facts about the Palace is that it was 100% privately funded.  We KNOW that won’t be the case with an arena in downtown Detroit.  It’s a feelgood story to have the Pistons return to Detroit but when Dave Bing is laying off policeman, firemen, teachers, and administrators it will look absolutely AWFUL to turn around and approve a new stadium in Detroit funded by taxpayer dollars.

  • Oct 19, 201010:51 am
    by Paul


    I think you should stick to analyzing on the court questions and leave land use issues to planners, designers, and real estate professionals.  The smallest section of this post is the section that “explains” why building a new arena is inopportune; this leaves a lot to be desired as the claim of your post is “Magic should not be involved because that would lead to a new arena”.

    As an urban planner who has extensively studied landuse/economic development issues, I think there are compelling arguments for both sides…but that is a discussion for another forum with fewer laymen.
    Don’t you think an Illitch/Magic ownership team would be a good recruiting team for basketball talent? I think it would have a decidedly positive impact on the court and I look forward to your opinion on the issue Dan as you regularly post thorough and insightful features

  • Oct 19, 201011:10 am
    by Graham Simmington


    So you finally decided to take your irrational hatred for the entire Arby’s menu public, eh? Bold move, Feldthos.

  • Oct 19, 201011:23 am
    by Laser


    i already busted this one last night on the previous blog entry. his agent says it’s not happening.

  • Oct 19, 201011:44 am
    by detroitpcb


    The real question is ‘do the Red Wings need a new stadium?’ If so, doesn’t it make sense for a new building to house both teams? While new stadiums are certainly not the answer to economic revitalization, they do bring revenue to the downtown on game days – bars, resturaunts, gas stations, parking lots  – so it would have a positive effect.

    Personally, living west of Ann Arbor, i hate the drive to Auburn Hills, and only go once a year. If the Pistons were located downtown, i would be far more inclined to catch a few more games.

    on the Magic issue, i’m not sure anyone can really understand the impact celebrity has on a person if you have not experienced it to some degree. Thinking in the third person is part of it. Since 63% of american men report cheating on their wives, with the real number probably being higher, it would seem that the real problem is the unnatural expectation of monogamy that christian marriage imposes on people.  Maybe we should organize ourselves in ways more in harmony with our biology. Magic, because of his celebrity, simply had more oportunity with willing pardners than most people ever have. To my knowledge, no one ever accused him of forcing himself on anyone, abusing them, or molesting a minor. What happens between consenting adults is their own business. And i personally thought Magic handled his infection with HIV with a great deal of class.

    And if you want to take a deeper look at HIV and where it came from, look at the scientific experiments Dr Robert Gallo and collegues were doing for the Defense Department during the late 1960′s and 1970′s. Experiments with retroviruses, combining feline cat leukemia with sheep scrapie and monkey viruses, mixing them with human cell lines.

  • Oct 19, 201012:14 pm
    by Patrick Hayes


    Because agents always tell the truth?

  • Oct 19, 201012:53 pm
    by Laser


    i’ve never known one to lie.

  • Oct 19, 20103:49 pm
    by tads


    I think this picture was taken at MSU at that Arby’s on Grand River.  I don’t know if it is still there or not, but in my Senior year I remember that was where the cops would gather before sending horsie-cops to break up the house parties.

  • Oct 19, 20104:18 pm
    by DoctorDaveT.com


    Hey, PP,
    wasn’t all of Detroit disheartened and discouraged when Isiah wasn’t welcomed into management by Mr. D at the end of his career? Weren’t all of us surprised when he took JoeD – because he hadn’t taken Isiah?
    Those moves turned out to be pretty OK, didn’t they?
    If Magic knows so much about GMing – how come he isn’t already? I think DF is spot on here. And as for the “Magic/Earvin” thing? That sounds “Halloween Weird.”
    @Paul – are we “laymen” not allowed public opinion on a public facility? DF may have an opinion based on the economy; how about one based on politics: why should taxpayers pay for a gazillionaire to have a place to watch his toys? Mr. D’s privately funded stadium was absolutely awesome. Illitch should be able to do the same – especially if he’s going to house 162+ home games a year with the Wings & Pistons playing it (plus preseason, concerts, etc.).
    @Joe – it doesn’t matter on what side of 8 mile someone lives to have a +/- opinion on public sports facilities. (PS – I live south of 8 mile….)
    @DPCB – don’t blame infidelity on Christianity. According to stats I’ve seen, the most sexually satisfied couples are… “protestant” Christians (OK everyone, exhale now. Yes, Bible Christians do have sex).

  • Oct 19, 20106:01 pm
    by Jonathan


    Reference that cheating statistic detroitpcb.  After a lot of googling the highest percentage in a study I can find is 41%.  We’re not all Don Drapers.

  • Oct 20, 20106:07 am
    by Dan Feldman


    Joe, I live in Flint. What’s your point? In a Machiavellian world, I should want a taxpayer-funded stadium. I won’t have to pay for it.

  • Oct 20, 20106:15 am
    by Dan Feldman


    Paul, you are correct. I didn’t devote a substantial amount of time to explaining why I’m against publicly funded stadiums. But that wasn’t the point of this post.

    All I wanted to do here is challenge the typical beliefs of a basketball fan. It’s easy to get up in a culture where a basketball arena is incredibly important. To many people, it’s not, and in this forum, we need to keep that in mind.

    You can bet, as we move toward the likely scenario of a publicly funded downtown arena, I will be writing more about this issue and explaining my reasoning with more depth.

    If you are knowledgeable in this subject, I would love for you to comment in posts about it. I definitely don’t know all the details.

    I think the duo would be good, not necessarily great, for recruiting basketball talent. But Joe Dumars is already very good at that. Players respect Dumars, and that’s a big draw for this team.

  • Oct 20, 20106:17 am
    by Dan Feldman


    DetroitPCB, if the Red Wings need a new arena, and I think they do, they should play at The Palace in the short term. It’s the most economically viable and efficient scenario.

  • Oct 20, 201012:12 pm
    by Laser


    laser is a social liberal, fiscal conservative (because nobody asked). not usually in favor of public funding for a private sports arena, but especially against it in this city at this moment. it’s going to be FOREVER before the city makes those millions back. it’s the kind of investment a stable city should be making, if at all.
    one of the best things about bill davidson was that he build the palace on his own dime. i have a world of respect for that. and it’s especially disheartening to think that ilitch would try to get public funding at a time like this when there’s a top notch facility available right now that was funded privately.
    and i know every deal is different, but i sure hope whatever plan the city worked out with ilitch involves him paying the city back. whatever benefit the city sees from an arena may be nice, but the thought of buying a sports team for half a billion dollars and then having the city pay the same amount to build you an arena for personal profit is the craziest thing i can think of. i’ll admit i don’t know the ins and outs of this sort of thing, but “publicly funded” doesn’t exactly connote a loan to me.

  • Oct 20, 20101:06 pm
    by Laser


    got it! looks like it’s got something to do with a massive federal tax hike coming in 2011. apparently the capital gains tax is about to skyrocket, and profits from the sale of his lakers share and starbucks stores would be taxed 1/3 MORE if he executed the sale three months from now. check this out:
    it makes a lot of sense. looks like just a shrewd business move. so maybe the pistons (or some other team) are in his future, but that doesn’t look like the impetus for selling right now.

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