Had I not sprained my left knee and ankle during summer league action, it’s certain that as a sweet-shooting rookie almost seven-feet tall I’d already be an emerging star. Alas, I only recently regained my vigor, and the other night began my pro career in the G-League, scoring seventeen points. I consider that a promising debut and must make sure coach Luke Walton and the team’s brain trust aren’t planning to nail me to the bench in prime time.
“Mo Wagner to see Magic Johnson,” I tell a curvaceous secretary in executive offices of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Mr. Johnson is busy now,” she says.
“I’m rather busy myself. Ring his office and tell him to hurry up.”
“I can’t do that. Why don’t you have a seat and wait a little while?”
“I’ve been waiting all my life, madam,” I say, and head down the hallowed hall. The young lady protests but I walk until I hear sonic booms.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Magic roars. “I run this bleeping organization and you aren’t going to screw up my return to Showtime brilliance.”
“I’m trying to build a bridge for your return,” says Luke
“I told you not to interrupt. Our defense is a farce giving up one-twenty a game. You better start guarding people. And down the stretch our offense bumbles and we keep blowing leads and losing. I demand you figure out who should be playing and when and quit shuffling guys like cards. I won’t tolerate your two and five record.”
“We’re very close to being a good team. And I can certainly explain why we’re having some breakdowns…”
“Luke, I’m gonna put a sock in your mouth.”
I resume walking and slap the door before I twist the knob.
“Magic, I’ll finish Luke’s explanation, which you should’ve listened to.”
“What the hell’re you doing entering my office like that, rookie?”
“I’m only twenty-one but a precocious lad, and it’s time I became a Laker mainstay.”
“Get outta here,” orders Magic, standing and pointing at the door.
“Not until I’ve made critical points I’m sure Luke was about to.”
“Mo, I’ll make my own points,” says Luke. “Please leave.”
“Gentlemen, you lost two key players to suspension, Brandon Ingram four games and Rajon Rondo three. That ruined your rotational rhythm. So did Lonzo Ball’s summer knee surgery that restricted his minutes to start the season. I also sense he may be a little tentative despite playing rather well. If he gets enough minutes, he’ll soon be an all star. That’s also my destiny, when you two hitch up your trousers and put me in the rotation.”
“You’re one crazy dude,” Magic says.
“I’m one modern ass NBA big man. Look at my college stats.”
“I drafted you, kiddo.”
“Then you know I can shoot from afar as well as finish at the rim and am a fine rebounder. I’m the missing element.”
“You aren’t a defensive wizard,” Magic says.
“I’m better than you think, and I’ll stretch opposing defenses till they snap.”
“Mo, I’ll keep this in mind, and I know Luke will, too, but right now you either get outta here or I’m cutting you.”
Smiling at the legendary point guard, I say, “You ain’t cuttin’ me, Magic man, and everyone in this room knows it. We’ll speak again in a few days.”
“The hell we will,” says Magic.
I wink at Walton and shake Magic’s hand as I exit.
A week later I return, after setting an appointment, and sit across a large table from Magic, Walton, and executive Rob Pelinka.
“Gentlemen,” I say, rising above them, “the Lakers have played three games since last we conferred. You – I can’t say ‘we’ until I actually get on the floor – blew a fourteen-point lead late against Dallas and almost lost. You also squandered most of a twenty-point lead late against Portland and barely survived.”
“We won those games,” says Pelinka, who subbed at Michigan a generation before I led the Wolverines to the Final Four.
“Right, then what happened the next night? Toronto, playing without its star, Kawhi Leonard, got countless easy layups, open threes, uncontested mid-range shots and lit you up forty-two to seventeen in the first quarter. They could’ve scored a hundred-fifty if they’d wanted. Don’t make Luke walk the plank before I’m put in the rotation.”
“Who the hell says Luke’s in danger?” says Magic.
“Millions of basketball fans. Tyronn Lue coached Cleveland to three straight NBA finals and one title but was axed after only six games. Let’s not be disingenuous. Just give Mo Wagner at least twenty-five minutes a game and start turning these Lakers into winners.”
“Okay, Mo, you got it,” says Magic, “but you better deliver.”
“Hold on, Magic, I’m the coach and the one who’d have to make this decision.”
“The decision’s made,” says Magic.
Luke looks at Pelinka who nods grimly.
“Thank you, gentleman,” I say.
They all stand and we exchange high fives.