It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Pelinka, hired by the Lakers in 2017 to replace Mitch Kupchak, was involved in a feud with Magic Johnson that went public in 2019. Johnson resigned as Lakers president and then accused Pelinka of “backstabbing.” When the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat for the franchise’s 17th NBA title, Pelinka picked up the phone.
The Lakers tie the Boston Celtics for most titles
It was one of the strangest NBA seasons, but it was worth it for the Los Angeles Lakers. When the league was shut down on March 13 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19), Banner 17 was an afterthought for the Lakers. The season was on hold and there was no guarantee of resuming.
Four months later, the league resumed in a completely different manner. Teams were required to play in a “bubble” in Orlando, Florida. No fans were allowed to watch in person. After the death of George Floyd on May 25, the subject of racial inequality was again brought to the forefront. Players wore messages regarding social justice on the back of their jerseys. “Black Lives Matter” was written down the side of the NBA courts.
The social justice issue became so big that many players were skeptical of finishing the season. Fortunately for the Lakers, they did. The Lakers were dominant in the postseason, winning their first three series by a 4-1 margin. They then defeated the Miami Heat 4-2 in the NBA Finals and tied their rival Boston Celtics for 17 NBA championships.
Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson had their issues
At the tail end of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were shocked at what they heard. Team president Magic Johnson abruptly announced he was stepping down. Part of the reason Johnson was leaving was because of his relationship with general manager Rob Pelinka. Johnson didn’t trust him.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Johnson said he felt that Pelinka was “backstabbing and whispering” about him within the organization. The two grew apart. “I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on,” Johnson said in early April of 2019, according to CNN.
Johnson also believed he didn’t have the power he thought he had when he took the job. His plan was to move on from head coach Luke Walton but was getting resistance from others in the organization. “I wasn’t really having fun coming to work anymore,” Johnson said on ESPN’s “First Take.”
Pelinka called Johnson during the NBA Finals celebration
While Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson struggled to physically work together, they still managed to put the Lakers in a position to win. Johnson helped lure LeBron James to LA and then Pelinka was able to get Anthony Davis with James the following year. When the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat for the 17th title, Pelinka quickly called Johnson.
“I still have such gratitude for the two seasons I got to work with Earvin, and he’s definitely a part of tonight with his vision and working side by side,” Pelinka said, according to the LA Times. “He’s an unbelievable person, and we have a great, incredibly strong relationship. He was one of the first calls tonight. Had a great talk with him.”
Johnson said he was appreciative of the call and he and Pelinka remain friends. “After I left, that stuff was in the past,” Johnson said. “But I was still a Laker and nothing changed there. I’ve always wanted the best for the Lakers, and that’s why anything that I can do to help the Lakers back to winning an NBA championship, I was going to do. Rob and I were able to move past the situation, and now we’re good. We’re friends. We were talking about repeating last night.”