LOS ANGELES -- Before his Los Angeles Lakers opened a new era with Lonzo Ball, Magic Johnson stood in a tunnel watching his Los Angeles Dodgers play Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on a big screen at Staples Center and rooting loudly.
Johnson, co-owner of the Dodgers and president of basketball operations for the Lakers, was torn about where to be on this big night for Los Angeles sports, with the Dodgers playing in Chicago against the Cubs and the Lakers and LA Clippers opening the NBA season against each other.
"I got two things going on; I am too excited both ways," said Johnson, who pointed out that he was sweating underneath his suit as if he were playing in the NBA again. "I want to go to the World Series in the worst way, and then I got my first [Lakers] game this season and really with a team that [general manager] Rob [Pelinka] and I put together. ... So I am going crazy.
"I am going crazy both ways -- I am looking up [at the television monitor to watch the Dodgers] and then I am looking down there [to the court]," Johnson added as he pretended to look up and then down. "Is Lonzo OK? Looking up, [Clayton] Kershaw, you good? [Then] is Lonzo OK? Kershaw, you striking them out? That is how I am doing it right now. I am sweating like I'm playing, too."
About an hour before the Lakers' game, Johnson stood in a tunnel surrounded by reporters when Enrique Hernandez hit a grand slam in the top of the third inning to push the Dodgers up 7-0 over the Cubs.
Johnson exploded, running up and down the tunnel clapping and screaming, "That's what I needed right there! Yes sir!"
"This is the moment I've been waiting for -- to go to the World Series," Johnson said as he kept looking up at the big screen.
Johnson said he will attend the World Series, which the Dodgers reached with an 11-1 rout of the Cubs.
"This is a moment I will never forget," Johnson said at halftime of the Lakers' game, after the Dodgers had clinched their first trip to the Fall Classic in 29 years. "I was torn because I wanted to be here for Lonzo Ball's first game, and I'm glad I'm here. But my heart was already in Chicago, and I just talked to [chairman and controlling owner] Mark Walters and congratulated him on the phone. So this is a great moment for all of Los Angeles, all Dodgers fans everywhere. I'm so glad that Clayton Kershaw can finally pitch in the World Series. He deserves this moment."
Johnson said he was still sweating from all the excitement.
"Right now my shirt, I'm just drenched," he said. "I couldn't even tell you how my emotions -- it's been crazy, it's still crazy. I'm sweating because [the Lakers are] not playing as sharp as I would like us to play. I'm happy because I'm in the World Series, and I'm going back and forth. 'Dammit, rebound!' 'Uhh, I'm happy I'm in the World Series!' [Then it's] 'Who's got him!?' [Then] 'I'm in the World Series!' ... What a night. I'm gonna celebrate regardless, but I'm just hoping in the second half we play a lot better."
Johnson then focused again on the Dodgers.
"It means a lot, a little kid from Lansing, Michigan, growing up cheering for the Detroit Tigers and all that. Now, I'm in the World Series," he said. "Never even thought I'd own a baseball team, let alone be in the World Series. But when we all came together, our goal was to get us back to the World Series, and people didn't understand why we spent the money we spent; it's because we wanted to be in the World Series and we wanted to deliver this to the Dodger fans. And so, we're there, and now we got to celebrate for one night and then get ready."
But on this night, Johnson felt it was imperative for him to be present for the Lakers' opener and to see his prized point guard make his debut -- which was not as splashy as many had hoped. Ball had three points, four assists and nine rebounds in 29 minutes during the Lakers' 108-92 loss.
Johnson said before the game that he cannot fathom the type of pressure, attention and hype surrounding Ball and how the rookie handles it all.
"I can't even imagine being him right now," Johnson said. "I can't even imagine. Being an L.A. kid, this has got to be crazy. Always wanted to play for the Lakers, and he gets his first game tonight? Wow. He probably couldn't sleep for the last two or three nights. And his parents probably didn't sleep and his grandparents because they all wanted this for him. Now it is for real now. It is no exhibition. This is real. I just hope he relaxes and have fun with it."
Johnson said he didn't face nearly as much hype in his NBA debut, coming out of Michigan State as the top overall pick in 1979.
"The pressure was off of me because we were in San Diego and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and them took the pressure off of me," Jonson said. "And then I got that first layup and I was like, 'Whoaaaa.' But him, it is not even close to [the] pressure [I faced]. I can't even describe what he has on him because I didn't have social media, we didn't have sports talk and TV shows and ESPN and all this stuff that is happening now. This is crazy. But if anybody can handle it, this young man can do it."