So, why did Magic make his sudden announcement that he's leaving ESPN, less than three weeks before the NBA season begins? An announcement so sudden that the newest addition to NBA Countdown, Doris Burke, appears to have had no idea it was going down?
ESPN sources tell us that Johnson's departure was the result of an old-fashioned power war, with one very clear winner: Bill Simmons. "It's Simmons's show now," said one source.
Magic apparently was not at all happy when ESPN told his buddy Michael Wilbon that his role on NBA Countdown would be diminished. He was "booted," according to one source. Another ESPN insider also said that Magic was "privately seething over the Wilbon thing and in general did not like that Simmons held all the power and influence." Magic didn't necessarily need the power, our sources explained; he just didn't feel like kowtowing to Simmons when he's, well, Magic Johnson.
"The bottom line is they turned that show over to Simmons," said our source. "That's why Doug Collins got hired and why Wilbon was out."
And that's a very large part of why Johnson decided to bolt the show at the 11th hour. ESPN announced the news this afternoon and said that Johnson informed the network of his decision today. Johnson said in a statement he was leaving "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."
Now, the show belongs entirely to Simmons. He's losing star power with Magic Johnson's departure, but he's not necessarily losing a key component of a studio show that had a much-improved but still uneven 2012-2013 season. ESPN said it's still "determining our NBA commentator roles for the upcoming season." Simmons will be able to get a proper host in for the show. He'll be able to shape it however he wants.
Such is his power now at ESPN. "The shadow president," a source called him.