NBA

Magic Johnson Mentoring Lonzo Ball, “He's Just Like Me”

Earvin "Magic" Johnson sees a lot of himself in young LA Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball

It's difficult to figure out whether Lonzo Ball is a bigger fan of Earvin "Magic" Johnson or if it’s the other way around.

"I mean, he's the best point guard to ever play—in my opinion," Ball said about Johnson at Monday's Media Day.

"He's a very intelligent basketball player, and his teammates like him, and they're rallying behind him," Johnson said about in front of the same microphones on the same day. "He's a good, good young man. He's a natural leader. When you've won a state champion; he turned UCLA around headed in the right direction. He makes everyone around him better, but also, he gives you a pass that you could score."

Johnson played to the crowd of reporters present with a verbal nudge, "Some other guy used to do that. I don't know his name, but some other guy used to do that (laughs)."

Johnson, in no uncertain terms, drew a direct comparison between himself and the rookie out of UCLA, bred in Chino Hills. If anyone thought Ball's father had put too much pressure on the 19-year-old, Johnson's comments met those stakes, and likely raised them to flame-broiled levels of heat.

"We've had conversations," Johnson shared. "I told him he's just like me. When I came here, there were a lot of expectations put on my shoulders and put on the Lakers as an organization. I had guys like Jerry West and Bill Sharman and Chick Hearn to talk to…I think now, as I told him, I'm his boss but I'm also his big brother. So, when he comes into my office, I don't want to be his boss. I just want to be his big brother and give him either a pat on the back or give him some information to help him."

Asked about Johnson being like a big brother, Ball drew chuckles as he displayed a bit of his dry wit: "He's like my uncle; he's a little too old to be my brother. I appreciate him."

The line of communication is open and clear on both ends of this superstar tunnel, as Ball enters the NBA nearly four decades after Johnson played his first game with the Lakers in 1979 and eventually went down as the greatest Lakers' point guard of all time. Being the current point guard and face of the franchise, that sort of resume obviously carries a bit of weight, along with the fact that Ball grew up watching old game footage of Johnson with his father.

"He's right up there," Ball said in reference to Johnson's office. "I can go see him whenever I want, and he's always willing to talk to me. So, I appreciate him 100 percent, and I'm glad he can take this journey with me."

Only, Ball may not even have to take that walk up the stairs. When Johnson came back into the organization, he built a healthy habit of watching practices from a perched position and often talking to players and giving advice after the official sessions had concluded.

"I sit in those stands every practice and then I come down and make pointers after practice: 'Hey man, maybe you think about this, think about that,'" Johnson said about mentoring Ball. "So, I think he's going to help me do my job better, and I'm going to, hopefully, help him do his job better."

Is Ball on the same page as Johnson? Well, Ball's Instagram post from Media Day featured his new mentor smiling in the background.

Though Luke Walton shared plans to have Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw fill a mentorship role for Ball since the 51-year-old played as a point guard in the NBA from 1988 to 2003, Johnson has seemingly already stepped up to slot into the responsibility.

"You know, he was in this too," Ball said of Johnson's unique experience of being the face of the Lakers. "He came to LA, all the spotlight was on him and stuff, so he's always helping me."

According to Johnson and Pelinka, Ball's approach to the team and the organization rubbed everyone the right way from the management down to the players. His relaxed, ego-less approach combined with his work ethic immediately drew in teammates and already built bonds at Summer League and in offseason workouts. His selfless playing style should only further help gain the trust of his teammates through camp and preseason.

"I like him," Johnson continued beaming about Ball. "You know how you like somebody and you want to see them do well?"

He added, "Everybody's making a big fuss about him, but he's not making a big fuss about himself."

"Lonzo's got a really unique style of leadership about him," Pelinka dove in to describe the 19-year-old's temperament and how he leads. "It's a contagious style of leadership. It's not overly vocal or overly big personality but just the way he carries himself and his presence. It's kind of a quiet confidence and a humility, and it draws the other guys in."

Pelinka continued, "I think it's a leadership style that may be different from other leaders in the NBA, but it's effective. He doesn't like to draw attention to himself. And so, you'll see out on the practice court when he's playing in game, because it's not an 'all about me' mentality that he carries but it's 'all about us,' guys take his leadership clues in how he's playing."

"We needed a leader on this team and we have one now," Johnson said bluntly.

Asked if Ball has the perfect personality for the City of Angels, Johnson replied with a tone of cool that fit like Jack Nicholson in a stylish leather jacket, "It's perfect, man. He's a cool, good-looking young man with the game to match."

"Wow," Johnson whispered. "That's LA!"

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