Magic Johnson announced Thursday that his decision to leave ESPN had everything to do with his commitments being elsewhere, but according to Deadspin, it might be due to Bill Simmons leading the changes for the network's NBA coverage.
Sources told Deadspin that it was Simmons' decision to remove Michael Wilbon from the NBA Countdown studio crew that rubbed Johnson, a friend of the veteran sports journalist, the wrong way. ESPN recently hired former coach Doug Collins to take the place of Wilbon on the network's NBA show, and Deadspin reports that was Simmons' doing as well.
One source even called Simmons "the shadow president" of the so-called worldwide leader in sports.
Simmons, for his part, denied the allegations.
My first experience today with someone writing a "sources" report about me that's not true. Part amusing, part horrifying.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 10, 2013
In ESPN's release announcing Johnson's departure, executive vice president of production John Wildhack alluded to the change being surprising rather than planned.
"Earvin 'Magic' Johnson informed us today that he'll no longer be part of our NBA coverage due to his other commitments," Wildhack said in a statement. "We appreciate Magic's contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors. We are in the process of determining our NBA commentator roles for the upcoming season."
Also on Thursday, it was announced that sideline reporter Doris Burke would be joining ESPN's studio crew. Burke spoke with SI.com's Richard Deitsch and mentioned Johnson as a future studio partner.
Jalen Rose and Simmons make up the NBA crew, and Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo could join them, according to Deitsch. The network brought on Collins, the former Philadelphia 76ers coach, this week.