ESPN NBA Countdown is turning into televised basketball's game of musical chairs. After swapping Doug Collins in for Michael Wilbon and adding Doris Burke to the fold, today Magic Johnson released a statement through ESPN that he would not be part of their coverage this year:
"I love ESPN. 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 John Skipper, John Wildhack, Mark Gross, Kim Belton, Amina Hussein, Mark Summer, Adam Hertzog, Bob Rauscher, Stuart Scott, Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry, Jalen Rose, Bill Simmons, Chris Broussard and the many others at ESPN for the wonderful opportunity to talk about the game I love. They are the best in the business."
Magic Johnson is a basketball legend, an inspirational figure, and now a successful owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers… but he was never great on television. As much as ESPN tried to force it, moving to Los Angeles and positioning the studio entirely around him, Magic just never translated his basketball IQ and likable personality to great studio analysis. Remember when he tried to read Lakers highlights?
With Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon moving on and Doug Collins and Doris Burke on their way in, the ESPN NBA studio is going to look vastly different for the second straight year.
UPDATE: Deadspin reported Johnson left NBA Countdown because he was on the losing end of a power struggle with Bill Simmons after friend Michael Wilbon was booted from the main set. Bill Simmons strongly denied the report on Twitter saying, "My first experience today with someone writing a "sources" report about me that's not true. Part amusing, part horrifying." He also tweeted that Magic would be on his podcast next week. Whatever the case, it's an angle worth following in the coming days and weeks ahead.