Is Mike Ilitch Using a Little ‘Magic’ to Move the Detroit Pistons Downtown?

by Josh Huebner

It was announced that Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson has sold his five percent (worth 28 million) stake in the Los Angeles Lakers.  While this is an interesting move on many levels*, one can’t help but instantly link this sale to his interest in owning the Pistons.  Especially since he told Scott Howard-Cooper at over the summer about his interest in having a stake in the organization:

“Somebody back there has to be the majority owner. Be the owner,” said Johnson, who would have to sell his interest in the Lakers to work for or own another team.. “That wouldn’t be me. But if Ilitch or somebody — you’ve got a good guy back there already in Joe Dumars. If somebody said, ‘Hey, can you come and think about helping Joe Dumars?’ then I would think about it.  Just like the Lakers. It’s not the full [ownership]. You just get a little piece. But then you are involved in the basketball, how the decisions are made.”

Fast forward a few weeks from this quote(August 30th) and  Ilitch is in negotiations to purchase the Pistons and Johnson mysteriously sells his stake in the Lakers while the team’s value is at an all time high.  Johnson’s agent quickly refuted a connection, but offered little insight as to why Johnson would sell now.  It’s not far fetched to predict Johnson’s next move, especially considering what he could potentially gain.  It’s no secret Johnson is one of the most charismatic athlete’s in the world, and while he has had successful business’s all over the country he  could have the greatest success in his home state.  A Lansing native, he has remained involved with the state of Michigan, and has proudly supported the Michigan State Spartans’ basketball team, but now could serve as one of saviors who brings the Pistons back to Detroit.

Mike Ilitch has made it clear he wants to build a new arena downtown, but moving the Pistons has raised more concerns than predicted.  Although no sale is final, many have openly doubted the success of moving the Pistons downtown and question leaving the Palace vacant in Auburn Hills.  Not to mention persuading the city of Detroit into helping fund the building of a new arena downtown.  However by adding Johnson as an owner would allow for a much smoother transition.  It would cost Ilitch a small stake of his ownership, but could allow him to have everything he wants.  Ilitch already has Mayor Dave Bing on his side and having Johnson on board would make it very easy to win over the cities support to help fund a new state of the art arena and continue to build Ilitch’s downtown empire.

While on paper this partnership makes sense for the overall well being of the city of Detroit and the Pistons, but it also raises concerns.  Is the city in position to fund another stadium?  Currently Comerica Park and Ford Field have had minimal impact in providing financial gains for the city.  Adding a new arena and the Pistons could tip the scales and finally revamp the entertainment district, but it could also cripple the city.  Regardless of how successful or unsuccessful  this move could be it appears to be on the fast track to occurring.   This is a developing story, but one that will likely end with Magic Johnson and Mike Ilitch as new partners.  How do you feel about this partnership and the effects it could have on Detroit, Auburn Hills, and Michigan?

*Boring side of Magic Johnson selling his stake in the Los Angeles Lakers is that he simply needs money, and the Lakers made him offer he couldn’t refuse( today he sold 105 Starbucks franchises as well).  However, it still seems like this partnership is something Johnson will be interested in, but inevitably could mean more to Mike Ilitch.


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