Magic Johnson, the former NBA superstar who has become a business magnet, will team with Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter to add to his portfolio and purchase the struggling Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA.
The transaction will save the franchise from relocation or contraction, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The new Sparks ownership group also includes Dodgers president Stan Kasten and part-owners Todd Boehly and Bobby Patton, according to sources.
The Sparks, one of the original eight WNBA franchises, have been in limbo since Christmas when their previous owner, Paula Madison, abruptly told the league, Sparks coaches and employees that her company could no longer operate the team. Madison subsequently told The Associated Press that her family lost $12 million operating the franchise since buying it from the Buss family in 2007, and $1.4 million last season.
After Madison’s announcement, the league took control of the Sparks and actively sought to find new buyers. The Golden State Warriors confirmed to espnW’s Michelle Smith that they were interested in buying the Sparks and moving them to the Bay Area, which has a strong women’s basketball fan base because of the success of the Stanford and California women’s programs.
The Sparks and the WNBA have been in limbo ever since. It’s been impossible to schedule next season without knowing the fate of the Sparks. Free agency has been stalled. Talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have been slowed.
Now that Johnson and Walter have stepped in to buy the franchise, all that can move forward and one of the WNBA’s signature franchises can remain in Los Angeles.
It is the second time the duo has partnered to help resurrect an LA franchise. Johnson and Walter teamed with a group of investors to buy the Dodgers from embattled owner Frank McCourt in 2012 for a record $2.15 billion dollars. Walter is the chairman of the Dodgers and Guggenheim Baseball Management, and CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a privately held global financial services firm that manages more than $200 billion in assets.
Since acquiring the Dodgers, Walter has approved nearly a billion dollars in new salaries, including a new seven-year, $215 million deal for two-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.
The purchase of the Sparks is being made separately from Walter and Johnson’s ownership of the Dodgers, according to a source.
The WNBA announced a 1 p.m. ET press conference for Wednesday with Johnson and league president Laurel Richie outside of Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.