In a surprising announcement Thursday, ESPN NBA analyst Magic Johnson announced that he will not return to the network.
Johnson issued a statement through ESPN saying that other commitments left him unable to adequately serve and NBA analyst for the network — an implicit reference to his role as part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Deadspin, however, reported that Johnson’s departure was due to a behind-the-scenes clash with fellow “NBA Countdown” colleague Bill Simmons. Sources told the website that Johnson was displeased with the departure of Michael Wilbon from the NBA pregame show, a move that was reportedly made to appease Simmons.
Johnson’s agent denied any behind-the-scenes rift in a statement to USA Today, as did Simmons on his Twitter account.
With Johnson gone, the “NBA Countdown” pregame will have a dramatically different look this season. Wilbon, as mentioned previously, has already been replaced by incoming analyst Doug Collins. According to Sports Illustrated, Doris Burke will join the show on Wednesdays this season — a move that was apparently in the works before Johnson’s departure — with Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo candidates to join the show as well.
Johnson had been with ESPN since 2008, and had previous roles with Turner Sports (2002-08) and NBC (1992-94).