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NBA lockout: Magic Johnson defends David Stern

November 9, 2011 |  9:56 am

Magic JohnsonThe NBA owners and players union aren't just struggling to reach a deal.

They're struggling to avoid inflammatory comments. Players union attorney Jeffrey Kessler argued to the The Washington Post's Amy Shipley that the owners are treating the players like "plantation workers," a charge that drew a strong response from NBA Commissioner David Stern and then former Laker Magic Johnson. 

“This league is more diverse than any other league and has more minorities in powerful positions than any other league,” Johnson told the Associated Press' Brian Mahoney. “That’s all about David Stern and his vision and what he wanted to do. He made sure minorities had high-ranking positions from the league office all the way down to coaches and front office people.”

“It was David Stern who took this league worldwide. And so those guys know it was because of David Stern and what he was able to do."

HBO Real Sports' Bryant Gumbel also used the plantation analogy last month, arguing that Stern "always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys.”

Johnson cited various examples to prove otherwise. He noted how players such as himself, Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan have landed ownership positions after having lucrative NBA careers. He expressed both appreciation for Stern inviting him to play in the 1992 All-Star game despite player protests after retiring the previous November because he was infected with HIV, and helping him land a spot on the 1992 Olympics U.S. "dream team." After Johnson's comments critical of Thomas in his book "When the Game Was Ours," was released two years ago, he said Stern urged him to patch up his relationship.

“He is always is looking out for the players and what’s best for the league, and I disagree with anybody who says he’s trying to be a plantation owner," Johnson said.  It’s ridiculous we’re even talking about it ... He’s a tough businessman and a smart businessman. That’s what he’s supposed to be.”


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Photo: Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie share a laugh with a friend at the news conference to mark Johnson's announcement 20 years ago that he had contracted HIV. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times