Magic Johnson said he abruptly left the Los Angeles Lakers last month in part because he felt betrayed by general manager Rob Pelinka.
In an appearance on ESPN's "First Take" on Monday, Johnson said he heard from both employees within the Lakers and business partners outside the organization that Pelinka was badmouthing Johnson, insinuating that he wasn't working hard enough. And that irked Johnson, the former president of basketball operations, and helped lead to his sudden exit.
"I start hearing, 'Magic, you're not working enough. Magic's not in the office,'" he said. "People around the Laker office were telling me Rob was saying things, Rob Pelinka, and I didn't like those things being said behind my back."
Pelinka said at a news conference later in the day that he has spoken with Johnson multiple times since the Hall of Fame point guard's departure and denied badmouthing him behind his back.
"It's saddening and disheartening to think he believes things are a misperception," he said.
Beyond the Pelinka's alleged betrayal, Johnson said he didn't feel like he had the decision-making power that he needed within the organization, citing the increasing influences of Joey and Jesse Buss, the brothers of owner Jeanie Buss, as well as Lakers president of business operations Tim Harris.
The last straw, he said, was when he asked Jeanie Buss for permission to fire coach Luke Walton and was given conflicting answers over the course of three different meetings.
"When I looked up and said, 'Wait a minute, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss, now I got Tim involved.' I said, 'It's time for me to go,'" Johnson said on ESPN. "I've got things happening that were being said behind my back. I don't have the power that I thought I had, to make the decisions. And I told them, when it's not fun for me, when I think that I don't have the decision-making power that I thought I had, then I've got to step aside."
Johnson said he has no regrets about leaving the team, nor the manner in which he left. He said he is "not a regretful person" and that his departure will not affect his relationship with LeBron James, whom Johnson helped recruit to Los Angeles.
James was stunned by the way that Johnson left the team without so much as a phone call.
"I could've done it a different way. Yes, (James) is right," Johnson said on "First Take." "But I did it my way. And that doesn't take anything away from our relationship, or how I feel about LeBron.
"Sometimes, as a man or a woman, you've got to make decisions based on your own happiness. And sometimes, you just have to go out and do your thing. And that's what I did."