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Magic Johnson group to buy Los Angeles Dodgers

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson is part of a group that has agreed to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Johnson "a living embodiment" of baseball's ideals, MLB commissioner says
  • NEW: Lakers owner lauds Johnson's successes in basketball, business, philanthropy
  • "I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise," Johnson says
  • The franchise filed for bankruptcy under previous owner Frank McCourt in June 2011

Read more about this story from CNN affiliate KTLA.

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A group that includes former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson will acquire the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion, the team said Tuesday night.

The price is the most ever paid for a North American sports franchise, according to MLB.com. The group will officially acquire the team, one of baseball's most storied franchises, after the deal is approved by the judge overseeing the Dodgers' bankruptcy.

The team has won the World Series championship six times and, for decades, boasted an intensely loyal fan base.

But in recent years, under the ownership of real estate developer Frank McCourt, the Dodgers made headlines more for their financial woes than for their home runs.

The team's troubles began when McCourt and his wife, Jamie, decided to part ways. An acrimonious and expensive divorce battle followed.

Dodgers manager dances in 'Nutcracker'

The couple fought bitterly over ownership of the team. In April 2011, Major League Baseball took charge of the beleaguered team. Two months later, the team filed for bankruptcy.

In October, McCourt announced that he and his wife had reached a settlement. He is scheduled to pay her $131 million, MLB.com reported. Attorneys' fees alone could reach $35 million.

In an effort to hold on to the team, McCourt tried to score a $3 billion television deal with Fox, but it was rejected by Commissioner Bud Selig.

Johnson said the sale will start a new chapter for the Dodgers.

"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles," said Johnson, a former Los Angeles Laker who is an icon in his own right.

Along with Johnson, the group acquiring the team includes Stan Kasten, a former executive with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, and Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter.

Some members of the group will also partner with McCourt to acquire Dodger Stadium and several other nearby properties for $150 million.

Legendary former Dodgers coach Tommy Lasorda applauded the sale, saying he has faith in both Johnson and Kasten.

"I'm very impressed with both of them, and I just hope that they can bring the championship to the greatest fans in all of baseball," Lasorda said Wednesday.

The Dodgers finished in third place in the National League Western Division last season and did not make the playoffs.

The club has not won a World Series since 1988, when Lasorda was the manager.

Johnson "can do a lot" to boost the team, Lasorda said. "He can talk to the players individually. He can talk to them about winning. He knows what it is to win, and he can transfer that attitude and that success that he has enjoyed to the players."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called Johnson "a living embodiment of so many of the ideals that are vital to our game and its future."

"The interest in this franchise and its historic sale price are profound illustrations of the great overall health of our industry," Selig said in a statement. "This has been a long, difficult process, and I once again want to thank the great Dodger fans for their loyalty and patience."

Lakers owner Jerry Buss also issued a statement congratulating Johnson and his partners.

"In addition to being a phenomenal success on the court in leading the Lakers to five NBA Championships, he has been a success in everything else he's become involved with," Buss said, "most notably his spectacular business career and also his educational campaign on behalf of HIV awareness."

Forbes Executive Editor Michael Ozanian said that although his magazine valued the team at $1.4 billion before the sale, the $2 billion paid by Johnson's group may turn out to be a good deal. It depends on the local television rights contract, which could be worth $3.5 billion over 10 years, he said.

McCourt stands to clear about $800 million from the sale, even after paying for the divorce, Ozanian said.

CNN's Jill Martin contributed to this report.

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