ASHBURN, Va. – Magic Johnson talked about how he won five NBA championships as a player, another five as an owner and an Olympic gold medal with the “Dream Team.” He talked about what it takes to win in sports and in business.
As he spoke, players and coaches leaned in to hear every word.
It was the Basketball Hall of Famer-turned-entrepreneur's first visit with the Washington Commanders since becoming a part-owner of the NFL franchise, a surprise appearance that overshadowed football for a brief time Wednesday in the hopes of making a lasting impact on and off the field.
“It was really cool because when he walked in, it’s kind of like you’re seeing a star,” second-year receiver Jahan Dotson said. “He was basically just giving us words of encouragement, making sure that we stay focused, stay disciplined and different things like that.”
Only Washington's coaches and a handful of players are old enough to have seen Johnson play for the Los Angeles Lakers. But so many have seen his highlights and heard stories about his three seasons and three NBA Finals as MVP and how he transcended sports by announcing to the world he was HIV-positive and then returned to the court more than four years later to finish his playing career.
More than anything, they know of Johnson as a winner, so players asked him about the differences between championship teams and the ones that fell short.
“He’s been through so many different teams and not only as a player but as an owner and won so many championships on both sides of it, so he definitely knows what it takes,” starting quarterback Sam Howell said. “He just talked about (how players) believed in each other and they just stood together as a team, they policed each other and always held each other accountable.”
That lesson about accountability is what resonated most for coach Ron Rivera, who was on the edge of his seat as much as his players to soak up Johnson's wisdom. Rivera saw Johnson in his prime, but this appearance he cared more about what players learned from Magic the person.
“You could tell they really bought into it,” Rivera said. "It's funny. It’s kind of like being a parent. You can tell your kid all you want, but till someone like Magic says it, then it means something.”
Johnson talked plenty, extending the chat long into pre-practice meeting times and running over schedule. That's usually a no-no in the NFL when teams have regimented schedules, but this was a special exception with Johnson and new controlling owner Josh Harris there for practice.
“Coach Rivera asked some of the leaders how they feel about that, and of course we welcomed that opportunity to talk to him but also hear his story,” receiver and team captain Terry McLaurin said. “Magic comes with a lot of energy. It’s great to meet such a successful man, a man of God who just loves to win."
Harris, speaking with co-owner Mitch Rales at an event for the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night said Johnson plays a unique role in the group, based on what he has accomplished, that allows him to deliver a message to players.
“There’s not a lot of people that have won, as an athlete, five NBA championships and, as an owner, five other world championships,” Harris said. “And so his ability to speak uniquely to what creates a winning franchise to people that are spending their entire lives training and getting ready for Sunday, he had a unique perspective that was very appreciated in the room.”
Johnson is expected to be at the sold out season opener Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
McLaurin was a limited participant in practice because of his sprained toe, as was edge rusher Chase Young with a neck injury. Young got a stinger in Washington's preseason opener Aug. 11 at Cleveland; McLaurin injured a toe on his right foot Aug. 21 against Baltimore.
Rivera said it was a “good day” for McLaurin, who took all the snaps the coaching staff scheduled the top wideout to do, and that Young is doing all he can to play with a final doctor's visit pending.
Young, for his part, said repeatedly he's “ready to go.” McLaurin also voiced optimism about his ability to face Arizona.
"I’m confident with where things are right now," McLaurin said. "I’m out there because I feel confident that I can get to the place where I can have a chance to play this week. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of this week goes and going from there.”
Receiver Dax Milne did not practice because of a groin injury. The Commanders brought back former WR Jamison Crowder as part of the practice squad, and Rivera said there's a chance Crowder could serve as the punt returner Sunday.
Tight end Logan Thomas, who missed part of camp with a calf strain, is not listed on the injury report and is good to go.
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