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Magic Johnson joins 76ers owner Josh Harris in bid for Washington Commanders

Earvin “Magic” Johnson has joined the bidding for the Washington Commanders as part of a group led by 76ers and Devils co-owner Josh Harris, according multiple people familiar with negotiations. The former NBA star and notable sports investor was also part of Harris’s failed bid for the NFL’s Denver Broncos last year. He is providing both money and expertise to the Commanders bid, said the people, who were granted anonymity because the details are private.
Johnson is no stranger to sports ownership. In 2011, when the Los Angeles Dodgers were for sale, Johnson joined the bid group led by Guggenheim executives. Johnson put in $50 million of his own money, a relatively small contribution to a successful bid that eventually topped $2 billion, but he played an outsized role representing the group publicly. Sportico now values the Dodgers at $5.24 billion.
When three veterans of legendary NFL agent Leigh Steinberg’s firm broke away in 2001 to launch their own talent agency, Athletes First, their plan, as the name suggests, was to put the needs of players over those of agents and teams. In the next two decades, it grew from a three-person shop in a Southern California living room to the largest talent agency in pro football, with a staff if 55 and sprawling offices in the posh Los Angeles suburb of Laguna Hills. Its 20 agents represent 300-plus players, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Athletes First has negotiated more than $11 billion in contracts since its founding, including the richest guaranteed-money deal in league history: $230 million over five years for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Today, the founders are set to announce that venture capital firms Mastry Ventures and General Catalyst are buying a majority stake. The new owners plan to bring a VC mindset to the agent business, says Mastry co-founder Rudy Cline-Thomas, helping players set up off-field ventures in addition to representing them in negotiations with teams. “We think we can build formidable businesses with these athletes, individually and as an aggregate, across industries,” says Cline-Thomas. “We’re turning them from players to owners.”
Cline-Thomas, a 44-year-old native of Washington, DC, and son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, began his career working at a DC-area sports agency. He later built a reputation as an adviser to NBA players such as Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, helping them gain access to venture investments in Silicon Valley. More recently, he led a group of 15 people, including NBA and NFL players, who funded the development of a science research campus for Harvard University that includes offices, retail and housing in addition to labs. In 2021 he co-founded Mastry, which has bought stakes in companies including youth sports insurance startup Players Health and an electronic document exchange service called Crstl.
Flourish Sports Group co-founder Iseolupo Adepitan is one of the key men, along with New York Giants legend Osi Umenyiora, responsible for producing a new wave of basketball and American football talent in Nigeria. His football programme, which works with Umenyiora, saw seven players convert from hoops to gridiron and make it to the NFL International Combine in London last year, and of those Kenneth Odumegwu, Jason Godrick and David Agoha made the NFL International Player Pathway Program (IPPP) Class of 2023. The Educational Basketball programme produced Emmanuel Okorafor, who played in the Basketball Africa League for Espoir Fukash last year, and has since gone on to join NCAA D1 side the University of Louisville Cardinals.
Rather than playing in the NCAA, Adepitan went into current Houston Rockets assistant coach John Lucas’ development program [John Lucas Enterprises] after high school, together with his older brother Olutobi. Along the way, he crossed paths with Mike James, a 2004 NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons. “I met [Iseolupo] at the time when he was pursuing his collegiate career. Him and his brother were really trying to get an opportunity,” James told ESPN. “Coach Lucas allowed them to come work out in the gym. Nobody really knew who they were, but after playing with them, we realised: ‘These kids are really good athletes. They can really play basketball,’ but it’s just like politics and anything in life.