ESPN just announced that Magic Johnson has informed the network he’ll no longer be part of their NBA coverage due to “other commitments.” Here’s Johnson’s statement:
I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role. I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much. I’d like to thank John Skipper, John Wildhack, Mark Gross, Kim Belton, Amina Hussein, Mark Summer, Adam Hertzog, Bob Rauscher, Stuart Scott, Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry, Jalen Rose, Bill Simmons, Chris Broussard and the many others at ESPN for the wonderful opportunity to talk about the game I love. They are the best in the business.
The decision, while appearing to be a shocker, didn’t surprise everyone. One source at the network tells The Big Lead that Johnson was unhappy that Mike Wilbon’s role on the show has been diminished (Doug Collins is replacing him). The two were very close, hanging out in Los Angeles regularly.
Bill Simmons was added to the show last year, and depending whom you believe, handpicked Jalen Rose to join the show (after the NBA nixed Stan Van Gundy’s addition). The two developed great chemistry at Grantland, and at times on Countdown last year, you could get a feeling it was “new school” guys Simmons and Rose agreeing, and “old school” guys Magic and Wilbon disagreeing. To be clear, the quartet was close off the set – Magic Johnson loves to host, and people who have attended lavish gatherings at his house have told me they’ve seen the entire Countdown cast there.
What direction will ESPN go next? Well, they don’t have much time, as the season begins in three weeks. Stephen A. Smith is an option. Doris Burke has been added to the set on Wednesdays. Could she be moved into the role full-time, and no longer call games? Would the network reach back out to Stan Van Gundy? Seems unlikely. Add a traditional host? Or perhaps just go with the three-man show?