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Magic Johnson says Sparks will be profitable

Team will continue playing at Staples Center and keep general manager and coach for the time being.

February 05, 2014
  • Magic Johnson joins WNBA President Laurel Richie for photos during a news conference to announce new ownership for the francise.
Magic Johnson joins WNBA President Laurel Richie for photos during a news… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

Magic Johnson said Wednesday that his investment group can turn the Sparks into a profitable WNBA team.

"We know what we're up against and that's OK," Johnson said. "We love challenges. We feel, yes, we're going to eventually make a profit, no question about it. That's why we're in business, to make a profit."

The investment group, led by Lakers legend Johnson and the Dodgers' controlling owner Mark Walter, purchased the Sparks from Paula Madison and her family-owned business. Madison announced in December that her firm could no longer afford to continue underwriting the unprofitable Sparks.

Madison said Williams Group Holdings had lost nearly $12 million on the Sparks over the last seven years, and was projected to lose more than $1 million in the 2014 season.

"We want to increase the fan experience because that's what we did for the Dodgers, that's why we're No. 1 in MLB in attendance," Johnson said.

Johnson said that the Sparks would continue to play at Staples Center and all of the team's staff, including General Manager Penny Toler and Coach Carol Ross, would be retained. "Everything is going to stay in place until we see how we can make it better," he said.

Johnson declined to say how much his group paid for the Sparks, but he said that they assumed all of the team's debt.

The Sparks are one of the original teams from the WNBA's inception in 1997. When the Sparks went up for sale, the Golden State Warriors' ownership group were front-runners to buy the team. Johnson said the Sparks were about to move to the Bay Area until his group stepped in.

"We came in at the 11th hour," Johnson said.

His motivation to buy the Sparks stemmed from his love for the game.

"I love basketball and I love women's basketball, so this was really simple and easy for Mark and I," Johnson said. "It's funny, we were on a plane and we turned to each other and said, 'Let's buy the Sparks.' I said, 'OK, let's go do it.' So here we are. It was real simple."

Johnson, a five-time NBA champion and three-time most valuable player with the Lakers, said he doesn't feel as though he's putting his name on the line by investing in the WNBA, which has been plagued by financial trouble.

Last season, only half of the league's teams made a profit, according to WNBA President Laurel Richie.

"It's going to turn out well," Johnson said. "We understand what happened in the past, but we don't worry about that. We move it forward. Both Mark and I have been in deals where businesses have lost money and we turn them around. We know how to do that. That's what we do in our sleep."

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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