Magic Johnson-led group is picked as Dodgers' next owner
Lakers legend known for community involvement will own small stake; Stan Kasten will run team. Sale is set to close April 30; if approved, it would end contentious McCourt era for the storied team.
A group led by Magic Johnson, the Lakers legend whose championship lineage and community involvement have made him one of the most beloved sports figures in Los Angeles history, was selected Tuesday as the next owner of the Dodgers.
The Associated Press reported the winning bid was for $2 billion.
The decision all but caps three years of turmoil surrounding the storied team, during which the Dodgers descended into mediocrity as Frank McCourt spent more than $25 million in a futile fight to retain ownership.
In an auction under the auspices of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, McCourt chose the Johnson group over St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and a partnership of hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen and biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988, their sixth championship in half a century of O'Malley family ownership. The Johnson group would become the Dodgers' third owner since the O'Malleys sold the team in 1998, following News Corp. and McCourt.
The sale must be confirmed by the court in a hearing April 13. The transaction is set to close by April 30, the same day McCourt must pay his ex-wife $131 million in a divorce settlement.
If the deal closes as expected, the Dodgers would be owned by an entity called Guggenheim Baseball Partners and run by Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
"Stan Kasten is my man," Johnson told The Times in announcing his bid last December. "He's a winner. He's built two incredible organizations, and he's well respected. That is what was important to me. I had to get with a winner, a guy who understands baseball inside and out."
The bulk of the funding to buy the Dodgers came from Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services firm. Mark Walter, the firm's chief executive, participated in the ownership auction as well as in meetings with Major League Baseball owners, but he is not expected to play a significant role in the day-to-day operation of the Dodgers.
Johnson would own a small stake in the Dodgers, as would Peter Guber, a veteran Hollywood executive and co-owner of the Golden State Warriors. Johnson and Guber are partners in the Dayton Dragons, a minor league baseball team that has sold out 844 consecutive games, an ongoing record in U.S. professional sports.
Johnson brought five championships to Los Angeles, marrying sports and entertainment as leader of the "Showtime" Lakers in the 1980s. The three-time NBA most valuable player was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, by which time he had launched a business empire that has included movie theaters, banks, restaurants and film production.
Johnson, 52, also has invested in — and sparked public awareness of — the fight against HIV, the illness that prompted him to retire from the NBA in 1991.
The announcement of the sale, and next week's dawn of the new season, could herald brighter days ahead for the Dodgers, a civic treasure battered and bruised for the past three years.
McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004, with what one of his divorce attorneys said was "not a penny" of his own cash. He nearly doubled team revenue — from $156 million in 2003 to $286 million in 2009, according to court documents — and the Dodgers reached the playoffs four times in his first six seasons of ownership.
On the eve of the 2009 National League championship series — with the Dodgers about to make their first back-to-back NLCS appearances in 31 years — the McCourts announced they had separated.
The Dodgers lost that series in five games and have not finished above third place in the NL West since then.
As the McCourts separated, the attorney for Frank McCourt said his client would remain in control of the Dodgers.
"Speculation about a potential sale of the team is rubbish," attorney Marshall Grossman said then. "Frank McCourt is the sole owner. He has absolutely no intention of selling this team now or ever."
Grossman said McCourt had a marital property agreement that specified the Dodgers were his separate property rather than community property.