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


(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.