By Barry Janoff
October 11, 2013: Call this the latest disappearing act from ESPN's NBA Countdown, this one involving the man know as Magic.
Ever since permanent retiring from the NBA as an active player in 1996 — a move the main catalyst of which was his testing positive for HIV — Earvin "Magic" Johnson has been a man with many projects on his agenda: businessman, entrepreneur, team owner, human rights advocate and on-air analyst.
Johnson has now taken one of those projects off his radar. On Thursday, he told ESPN he was leaving his position as an analyst on NBA Countdown, where he had appeared since 2008.
ESPN said they were informed by Johnson he would "no longer be part of our NBA coverage due to his other commitments."
According to a statement from Johnson, "Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don't feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role. I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much. I'd like to thank . . . ESPN for the wonderful opportunity to talk about the game I love. They are the best in the business."
Johnson's departure came just two days after ESPN signed former NBA player and coach Doug Collins to serve as an analyst on NBA Countdown to replace Michael Wilbon and work alongside Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons, both of whom joined the on-air crew last year.
“Working with Magic, Jalen, Bill and the rest of my new ESPN colleagues will be a lot of fun," Collins said at the time.
Reports indicated that a rift between Johnson and Simmons was a direct cause of Johnson's departure. That story was denied by both sides.
"Magic and Bill Simmons got to be very close and continue to be close. Bill Simmons and Earvin Johnson are friends," Lon Rosen, Johnson's agent, said in a statement: "[In fact] we called Bill before the release went out."
According to a statement from Simmons, "I loved getting to know Magic these past 12 months and was saddened to hear about his decision. We genuinely liked working with one another. [On Thursday] Lon Rosen and I were already talking about other possible projects that Magic and I could do together down the road. He's my friend. And a great guy."
Following Johnson's departure, new stories pointed to Doris Burke (pictured), who has covered basketball for ESPN since March 1991, as Johnson's NBA Countdown replacement, initially on a once-per-week basis. ESPN has yet to confirm that move.
"We appreciate Magic's contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors," John Wildhack, ESPN evp-production, said in a statement following Johnson's announcement. "We are in the process of determining our NBA commentator roles for the upcoming season."
Among his numerous endeavors, Johnson is part of the ownership group that last year acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers, now playing for the NL title and a shot at the World Series.
NBA Countdown, which has been title-sponsored by Kia, is scheduled to make its 2013 debut Nov. 1 via a special one-hour pre-game telecast prior to ESPN’s season-opening doubleheader: the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat at the Brooklyn Nets and the San Antonio Spurs at the Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Countdown is broadcast from the ESPN Los Angeles Production Center at L.A. LIVE, located across the street from Staples Center, home of the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
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