NEW YORK (Reuters) - Magic Johnson revolutionized the point guard position during his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and on Thursday, in his new role of running the team, picked a player in his own image to lead them back to contention.
With the second overall pick of the NBA Draft, the Lakers selected 19-year-old local standout Lonzo Ball of UCLA, a player capable of reviving the fast-paced ‘Showtime’ style that Johnson made famous.
At 6-foot-6, Ball is tall for his position, like Johnson was, and similarly heralded for his brilliant passing and ability to push the pace and run the fast break.
In his lone college season, Ball led the nation with 7.6 assists per game and earned first team All America honors.
Ball told reporters he was eager to ramp up his hoops education under Johnson.
“Obviously, he’s the best point guard to ever play,” Ball, wearing a purple-and-gold Lakers hat, said after his selection. “So I‘m looking to go in there and just learn from day one.”
“There’s never going to be another Magic Johnson, so I‘m trying to be myself,” he said. “But if I can come halfway short of him, you know it’s going to be good.”
Ball’s unusual jumpshot, which he hoists across his body from his waist, has led to some questions about his ability to shoot successfully in the NBA.
But Johnson oozed confidence in the pick.
“Laker Nation get ready, we are off to a great start,” Johnson, the team’s president of basketball operations, tweeted on Thursday. “Welcome to the team Lonzo Ball.”
Some people have been taken aback by the promotional fervor of his outspoken father LaVar, including the marketing of his own ‘Big Baller Brand’ shoes.
For now, though, the Lakers will bank on Ball helping revive a franchise that last made the playoffs in 2013.
LaVar Ball, for one, was certain of the team’s ascendance under his son.
“I‘m gonna tell you what: Alonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs his first year,” LaVar, wearing a Big Baller hat in Laker colors, said in a television interview.
“Come see me when he does. I’ll have another hat on that says, ‘I told you so.'”
Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Larry Fine/Peter Rutherford