While resigning as Lakers president, Magic Johnson preemptively denied he mistreated employees, as a forthcoming report was believed to allege.
Well, the report is here.
“If you questioned him on anything, his response was always a threatening tone,” said a Lakers front office staffer who interacted with Johnson directly. “He used intimidation and bullying as a way of showing authority.”
in 2017, a longtime female staffer was called into an office with Johnson and Pelinka after making a mistake, according to multiple staffers present and others familiar with the incident. The mistake, sources said, involved arranging a car service to the team’s facility for a draft prospect.
“I don’t stand for mistakes!” Johnson shouted at her. “I don’t make mistakes.”
Johnson also made clear, according to multiple people familiar with the exchange, that if the staffer made one more mistake, she would be fired.
In the office, the staffer apologized and later, off site, began to cry, according to multiple people with knowledge of the incident. In the months ahead, she would suffer increased anxiety and panic attacks. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, quit the Lakers after more than two decades with the team, and began several weeks of therapy, multiple people familiar with the matter said.
A Lakers executive said he also suffered panic attacks and had to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication. “Every day you go in there and you get this horrible feeling of anxiety,” the executive said. “In the last year, I can’t tell you how many panic attacks I’ve had from the s— that has happened there.”
A Lakers spokesperson said Johnson wasn’t reprimanded for unprofessional workplace behavior and that no official complaints were filed. The NBA also has not received complaints about Johnson through its confidential hotline or through any other means, a league spokesperson said, nor has the league investigated the Lakers in the past two seasons for issues related to its workplace environment.
Several Lakers staffers, both current and former, said they didn’t feel comfortable going to the team’s human resources department with complaints because they feared reprisal and doubted complaints would make an impact. Several staffers said that feeling represented a general consensus in the office.
This isn’t the right way to treat people. It isn’t a productive way to treat most people, either.
Workplaces generally perform better when employees feel valued and are treated with dignity. The stakes and public nature of the NBA already naturally place plenty of pressure on team employees. A boss on a power trip doesn’t suddenly make people feel more helpful urgency.
To be fair, sometimes people face anxiety even while working for companies with proper workplace environments. There are numerous possible triggers. We can’t know whether Johnson crossed whatever line we’d deem appropriate without seeing the incidents firsthand.
But the very best indicator Johnson went too far: So many people are leaking details to the media. This came from enough Lakers employees to believe there was a widespread problem.
The most alarming revelation is a fear of reporting. It’s practically impossible to eliminate harassment in the workplace. So, it’s important companies have strong safeguards to address misconduct.
In the aftermath of the Mavericks’ workplace scandal, the NBA opened a hotline for teams to report issues. That obviously didn’t work, as former Dallas employees went to the media to complain about team photographer Danny Bollinger sexually harassing them. They didn’t feel they’d get proper resolution through official channels – a reasonable conclusion, considering the Mavericks’ investigative report didn’t name Bollinger.
The same pattern is repeating itself with the Lakers.
Johnson is gone, general manager Rob Pelinka now in charge. But the Lakers must address the wider problem. When issues arise in the future, employees should feel comfortable reporting. It’s on the Lakers and NBA to ensure that happens.