There is an extensive list of NBA owners who have come in having had wild success in their chosen field and think that everything they learned can apply to basketball, only to find out professional sports is a very different beast. Certainly, there are some structures of how to create a corporate culture that can apply to a new setting (see the success of the Golden State Warriors’ owners on that front). But more often than not owners that think they know it all hurt their teams for years before they admit they need to do things differently.
The learning curve for players jumping into the front office is similar — they often have no idea how much they don’t know. It’s not just on-court skills, it’s the salary cap and CBA complexities, plus so much more. It’s the central question around Magic Johnson running Lakers’ basketball operations — does he know what he doesn’t know? Will he lean on the smart people already in that front office, or will he be dictatorial?
Larry Bird has made that transition from star player to team president, now running the Pacers, and done it as well as any former player. What did his path teach him about the road his former rival Magic is now on? Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times asked Bird just that.
“He’s got a lot to learn,” Bird said. “But he took the challenge and I’m sure he’s ready for it. There’s just so much to learn about it….
“You can put a team together, what you think’s gonna be a pretty solid team on paper, and then when they get out there they don’t mesh well,” Bird said. “I’m sort of going through that this year. We thought we had a decent team that we thought could compete for the fourth or fifth seed. We haven’t played as well as I thought we would all year. That’s the growing pains. That’s the frustration about it.”
When the trade deadline was approaching last month and rumors of Paul George being available swept through the league, Magic called up Bird and the two legendary on-court rivals talked. The deal never came close to materializing (with the Lakers or anyone, not at the deadline) and Bird said most of the conversation was about their families and other off-court things. It had to be an interesting talk nonetheless.
“I wasn’t motivated to move Paul George at the deadline,” Bird said. “I can’t remember if it was even brought up or not. I don’t think it was. It’s all fake news anyway. You know that. Somebody’s gonna start it and [it] just was a snowball effect. [The phone call] was not about Paul George.”
It’s far too early to judge Magic the executive, but he could do a lot worse than buying Bird a nice steak dinner in Las Vegas during Summer League and picking his brain. Bird gets it. Magic may, but for now he’s still a rookie learning on the job.