He spent his entire career with them and many consider him the greatest to ever wear the purple and gold. However, there may have been a chance for him to suit up elsewhere.
Johnson was always looking to make a comeback in the NBA after being forced to retire in Nov, 1991, but was unsure about the future of the Lakers as a championship contender. By then, his former head coach Pat Riley had taken over the New York Knicks and the two remained close, speaking regularly.
Johnson even went so far as to tell the New York Daily News in 1996 that he wanted to return with the Knicks, but his longtime agent Lon Rosen tells a slightly different story. In an interview with Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, Rosen insists that Johnson never tried to arrange a trade to New York:
“He did not try to arrange a trade,” Rosen said when he stopped laughing. “That did not happen. Something else happened but more of a friendship thing between Pat and Earvin and a driver hearing them talk. How’s that? It was never going to happen.”
Rosen continued on, saying that the story was made up:
“There was no talk of setting up a trade between the Knicks and the Lakers,” he continued. “Trust me, I was the one that was involved deep in the middle of anything that would have happened and I know what happened. There was nothing. It was a made-up story back then.”
While Rosen says the story was made up, Johnson’s comments were very real. Johnson and Riley definitely spoke and it isn’t farfetched for them to have spoken about him joining the Knicks. In addition to Johnson’s 1996 comments, he also spoke in 1992 about wanting to come back, saying it would be nice to play for the Knicks with Riley and even talking to then-Lakers general manager Jerry West about possibly playing elsewhere.
West even responded to the rumors then, noting that Johnson still had a contract with the Lakers and wouldn’t be playing anywhere else if he returned. In 1996, both the Lakers and Knicks denied any discussions ever taking place between the two sides.
It seems as if Rosen is right in that Johnson never demanded or tried to arrange a trade to the Knicks, but he certainly let everyone know that was something he would consider even if it was never that close to happening.