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LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and the future of the King’s final act

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The true allure of Los Angeles lies in a mentorship with Magic Johnson

Getty Images/SB Nation illustration

Kings have always known how to show the spoils of their regality. The art of the flex is imbued into one’s eminence, and at times, majesty requires it. LeBron James unraveled this knack and created a runway to bless the world with his fits, leaving us nothing but a Saharan thirst for the next moment.

The playoffs decorated the world with $46,000 Thom Browne suits. T-shirts and tea lizard caps provided more subtle flair the summer he toppled the Warriors. But his latest example was perhaps the most sublime. James arrived at Summer League adorned in shiny, $500 custom shorts with a screaming “Lakers” symbol under the waist band in embroidered twill prepared by Just Don and Mitchell and Ness. A basketball great turned summer tournament ambassador, James hugged young Lakers Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram, the latter dressed as a Rick James facsimile, the former describing James’ appearance as “cool.” An elementary finesse.

Such can be the allure of “L.A. Bron.” The Lakers were always his perfect fit, even if my allegiance to America’s greatest city, Philadelphia, pains me to say such things. The Lakers have always preached a bravado in their dealings, built over decades of pristine basketball and chaotic rivalries. Adding James to their storied history bolsters L.A.’s legacy as a free agency paradise.

Do not dismiss a Summer League appearance for its simplicity. The curtain is opening on what could be James’ final act, his last soiree of dominant athleticism. Yet, basketball is far from the only benefit James can find in California.

James reached the mountaintop of hardwood glory, but has often stated his goals around family and commerce. In 2016, he said one of his dreams was to own a team. The same year he harpooned coaching legend Phil Jackson for dismissing his rise in the business world with his partners, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter, after Jackson described James’ collective as a “posse.” The “LeBron Effect,” as detailed by a 2017 AEI study, has often said anecdotally and through evidence that wherever James plays, job opportunities increase within the area of the arena he holds. And, naturally, proximity to Hollywood allows for James’ second act as an entertainment icon to come to fruition.

Who better to further inspire James in his ventures than a basketball colossus whose legend only grew once he merged athleticism with his own business interest? Magic Johnson was always closer to the vision of LeBron James than Michael Jordan. Their games have more similarities and their business mindsets are aligned. James’ admiration for Magic was documented through free agency — specifically James’ veneration for Magic’s form of activism through affluence. Magic has made such ventures possible for black basketball stars.

A path like this isn’t a unique algorithm. The baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson, who thought black people should have their own financial institutions and was a founding investor in the Freedom National Bank, once wrote “Money is America’s god and businesspeople can dig black power if it coincides with green power.” The football icon Jim Brown created the Black Economic Union during the early moments of his Cleveland career, using athleticism as a facilitator in black-owned enterprises, athletic clubs and youth programs.

Business ownership, banking, and even the use of Magic’s properties and assets — such as his investment company Magic Johnson Enterprises and the storied lessons Magic taught business leaders like Howard Schultz — can create opportunities for the unprivileged. James’ own ventures, such as his I Promise School and family foundation that sent children to college, have already accomplished this in the past. James’ newfound proximity to Magic can create a path of continued activism through affluence that Magic has made possible.

This ideology makes the reality of L.A. with James sustainable. It plants a flag in the territory Rob Pelinka and Johnson carved out two years ago to reinvent the franchise wandering a basketball desert of mediocrity. Honestly, it should be rewarded. Weeks ago Magic said he felt no pressure to load the Lakers with free agent dynamos because, he said simply, “I’m Magic Johnson.” And frankly, that is an otherworldly flex from another basketball king.

The trappings of a possible west coast dynasty allows fans to dream of a new “Showtime” Lakers. James’ vision is now etched to California stone, where the mighty are rewarded the sprinkles of Tinseltown since basketball royalty already honored him with a crown and throne.

James’ first appearance as a Laker was brief yet divine. He sat court-side cheering his new fraternity like an overzealous father at a pewee soccer game. Though Lakers aficionados can muse about the future on-court promise James historically brings to a franchise, the opportunity here is to watch Magic breed James as the future of basketball’s commercial appeal. The branding brought him to town more than the basketball, a partnership James’ associates believed enthralled him enough to let Johnson walk into his Brentwood estate on a midsummer night.

So he will laugh with his old coach Ty Lue during the lulls of July ball. He’ll dance like the classic dope he’s become when music moves him to twirl. And he’ll enchant us just with his presence as the basketball world awaits what’s next. We’ve had plenty of joy watching a generation’s greatest basketball talent dismantle deities and kill off franchises and the men they employ. We’ve always asked for James’ next step to be a greater challenge. What’s larger than re-branding yourself for the future under the wing of an experienced giant? Thus begins the opening act of “L.A. Bron.”