L.A. celebrates Magic Johnson and new Dodgers owners
At dawn, Jeff Lynn sat cradling a cup of coffee at Philippe the Original, a downtown restaurant drenched in dusky light and Los Angeles memories. He considered the changes afoot less than a mile away at Dodger Stadium, hallowed ground for generations of Angelenos.
Like many people around the city Wednesday, he was happy—very happy—with the news that the Dodgers were being sold to a group headed by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and was more than ready to say goodbye to seller Frank McCourt.
“There’s no greater son of Los Angeles than Magic Johnson. He’s proven himself in the community,” said Lynn, 56, of La Crescenta. “Plus, he’s from where I’m from: Lansing, Mich.”
That’s L.A., where a basketball star from Lansing can become the quintessential son of Los Angeles, and a bunch of trolley dodgers from Brooklyn can become the most revered institution in the city, save perhaps for those Minnesota lake folk at Staples Center.
After a tumultuous era marked by a soap opera divorce, lavish personal spending, stadium violence and teams that were consistently good but not great, Wednesday marked a day for many to be proud of the Dodgers. People arrived at work wearing their Dodger blue. Others drove up to the stadium ready to start buying tickets again -- and even some merchandise.
Francisco Rodriguez, a lifelong fan who gave up his season tickets two years ago, was in line at the stadium box office early Wednesday, buying tickets for opening day and trying to find room in his budget to buy season seats in the pavilion.
“I decided to wait until I knew who was the owner to go ahead and buy tickets,” Rodriguez said as a trickle of fans made their way to the box office in groups of twos and threes. “I love the Dodgers. And it was heartbreaking to stop buying my season tickets. Hopefully now it’s all for the better.”
Ask 100 Angelenos who owns Ralphs supermarkets or any number of other businesses with deep roots in the city, and odds are that approximately zero will know the answer.
Ask who owns the Dodgers — or the Lakers, Clippers or Angels — and plenty of people will know. And care. A lot.
“The Dodgers are an asset, they’re a community asset,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview about the sale. “The Dodger brand, like the Laker, Clipper brand, like the Trojans and the Bruins, like the Galaxy and Chivas, are a brand associated with the city. But particularly the Dodger brand is something that people feel very, very connected to. My hope is that these new owners … see the Dodgers as part of the heart and soul of the town.”
“I certainly know that Magic will be an advocate for that,” he said.
As Villaraigosa’s comments suggest, Johnson is only one of several partners in the $2-billion deal, and not the one with the deepest stake. That would be Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services company whose principals do not appear to go by supernatural nicknames or have movie theaters named after them. No matter, apparently. Johnson will be the public face of the new Dodger ownership, and fans are expecting good things as a result.
“He’s going to embody the Dodgers,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “Magic’s an exceptional businessman with a very strong interest in people who are not always well served in the system. And it says something about his political skills that he managed to do this without taking a shot at Frank McCourt, who everyone in the universe seems to hate.”
Roz Wyman, a former city councilwoman who in the 1950s helped persuade the Dodgers to move west from Brooklyn, noted that McCourt did “extremely well in the deal.” She added: “I wish any ownership of the Dodgers be successful and I would like people to have a warm feeling toward the team, which seems to have been lost in the hassle of last year. But the American dream is to be successful and it looks like Mr. McCourt came out very successful in this sale.”
McCourt, though, was not the center of conversation Wednesday as fans came out of the closet, donning Dodger gear that, in many cases, had been gathering dust in the latter part of the McCourt era.
At Starbucks at the Ladera Center, the first Starbucks opened by Magic Johnson, people sat around and talked about the deal over coffee.
“As a business man and as a black man, he's done more for the community than a lot of other people,” said Thomas L. Cooper, 68.
Ever since Johnson came to California, “he made a decision to be part of L.A. He's built up L.A.,” said Gary Cooper, 43. “I think Magic's name is going to draw fans back to the Dodgers.”
Inside the shop, Kevin Harper, 52, read a story in the sports section of the newspaper about the buy.
“Even though he's not from here, Magic has made this his home. And I like that he's going to stay true to that,” he said. “I'm looking up again, as an L.A. fan.”
In Lincoln Heights, Charlie Alvarez, a 46-year-old consultant for at-risk youths, got up Wednesday morning and put on his white Dodger polo shirt, his blue Dodger jacket and his Dodger watch. Then he drove to Dino’s Burgers for breakfast.
“I got all of this to slap on as soon as I heard the news,” Alvarez said. “Oh man, all of us started calling each other. ‘Magic got it! Magic got it!’”
--Hector Becerra, Mitchell Landsberg, Paloma Esquivel and Kevin Baxter
Photo: Mike Enriquez and Kathleen Enriquez pose alongside the Magic Johnson stature outside Staples Center on Wednesday. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times