Skip to main content

Magic Johnson Once Asked The Lakers To Trade Him Or Fire Head Coach Paul Westhead: "I Want To Leave. I Want To Be Traded. I Can’t Deal With It No More."

Magic Johnson Once Asked The Lakers To Trade Him Or Fire Head Coach Paul Westhead: "I Want To Leave. I Want To Be Traded. I Can’t Deal With It No More."

Magic Johnson is widely considered the greatest Los Angeles Lakers player of all time. Only Kobe Bryant can fight him for that spot, and even though the Black Mamba was incredible for the franchise, many people would still select the point guard as the greatest Laker ever. 

He spent his entire career with the Purple and Gold, becoming the greatest point guard in the history of the game, winning multiple championships and individual awards with the team until his premature retirement. 

Great as he was for the franchise, there was a time when Magic was close to leaving the Lakers and taking on a different challenge. Back in 1981, during his third season with the team, Magic found himself in a bad position since then-head coach Paul Westhead changed the team's style of play, favoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's game over Magic's. 

This didn't sit well with Johnson, who contacted Jerry Buss to discuss the new tactics of Westhead. After winning the championship the past season as an interim coach, Westhead kept the job, but his changes didn't please Magic. Jeff Pearlman explained in his book, Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, that Westhead's new team's direction didn't please their young star. 

“No longer, he explained to the speechless players, would there be the same freelance, go-with-your-gut offensive opportunities,” Pearlman wrote. “The Lakers would continue to run, but always with a certain level of controlled stagnation. Thought replaced instinct. Programmed evaluation trumped rapid-fire response.”

Johnson didn't like this directly called Buss and asked him to fire Westhead. The team owner, however, didn't accept Magic's request.

“That was the moment when I found Magic had more power than anybody on the team,” Michael Cooper said years later courtesy of Showtime. “He called that night and everything in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers changed. All it took was one call.”

Even though the Lakers were having a great moment, boasted a good record in the Western Conference, Johnson just didn't like the way things were going on the court and publicly called the Lakers to trade him since he was done with the head coach.

There was an awkward moment of nothingness, the literal calm before an unprecedented storm. “I can’t play here anymore,” Johnson said. “I want to leave. I want to be traded. I can’t deal with it no more. I’ve got to go and ask [Buss] to trade me.”

“Are you serious?” [LA Herald-Examiner’s Rich] Levin asked.

“Definitely,” said Johnson. “I haven’t been happy all season. I’ve got to go.”

This time, however, Dr. Buss heard what his star was saying and fired Westhead the next day. Pat Riley took over, gave the team more freedom, handed Magic the keys of the car, and just enjoyed the ride. The Lakers would become a dynasty, winning four championships in the 80s, marking an era for a team and a city that lived for the show. 

You can say that Magic could have handled this situation better, but without that tantrum, the Lakers wouldn't have become what they were in the 80s. In the end, that attitude paid off for him and the organization, so it's fair to say Buss made the best decision for the franchise.

**Credit for the idea: Sports Casting**