"We love the Lakers and talk about everything," Jim adds. "I keep him informed of almost every decision Mitch or I have made. And if it's anything large, like the Gasol trade, he's involved with every detail." (The Lakers traded with Memphis for Spanish superstar Pau Gasol in February 2008.)
"I foresee Mitch being with the Lakers as long as he wants to be," Jerry adds. "He's very good and great to work with. It used to be me and Mitch, then we added Jim, and now it's mostly the two of them. It's an ongoing process, and so far, it's going wonderfully."
Jim knows he's about to take on a job that is the sports equivalent of following Frank Sinatra. "I want to follow in my dad's footsteps. I don't know if I can fill his shoes, but I'm very proud of what he's done over the past 30 years. It's great for the city. It's great for the NBA, and I feel I'm capable of doing something like that."
If there is one Buss kid who combines the front-office aspirations of Jeanie with the on-the-court interests of Jim, it's Joey, the third oldest of the boys. At 24, he comes across older than his years and, in spite of his youth, has already worked in almost every aspect of the Lakers organization. These days, Joey is team president for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, an NBA talent-development team. He also attends NBA Board of Governors meetings alongside Jeanie and Jerry.
When he was more involved with the Lakers, he used to sit in on coaches' meetings. "They [were] an incredible opportunity for me," he says. "Imagine being part of a classroom, with Phil Jackson as the teacher. It's a little surreal and something that's invaluable as I continue to learn."
"I think he has the business acumen to follow in Jeanie's footsteps, but also he's into the basketball end of things," Jerry says. "I could see him in either role."
"I'm more of a strategist," Joey clarifies. "I enjoy applying the strategy of how to win to business and basketball. I really love doing both. Basketball requires more travel, the business is more at homeso since I have a new wife, I might steer toward business. But I'm glad I don't have to decide yet."
Last summer, Joey wed the former Nicole Goff, an occupational therapist he met while at Marymount College (though they both went on to USC). When I asked Jerry, a noted fan of the playboy lifestyle, if he thought Joey was marrying too young, he answered quickly: "Socially, he's 24 going on 28, so it's the right move for him. Plus, I was married at 19, so who am I to criticize?"
Jim's youngest sister, Janie, works as the Lakers' director of charitable services. Married to David Drexel, she lives in Temecula and is the mother of two: Riley, 16, and 12-year-old Sierra. She handles more than 500 requests a month for charity items and also runs the Lakers Youth Foundation, which, according to the Sports Philanthropy Project, hands out close to $500,000 in grants annually.
"She's probably the most compassionate of all of my children," Jerry says. "Charity is really her calling. As a mother, it's a great fit."
If you think because she lives outside L.A. and is married with kids that she might have been the one sibling who would have strongly considered her dad's offer to consider selling the team, you'd be wrong. "I love what I do, and a lot of my friends can't say that. I can see my kids whenever I want. If my dad sold, the money may run out, and I have a job that I love as long as we own it. My life is perfect how it is. Plus, it's my dad's team."
The youngest Buss is only 21 and insists Jerry is his best friend, despite their 55-year age difference. "My dad is able to adapt to anybody, any age," Jesse says. "That's what has always made him so easy to talk to. He wants to listen to anything you're interested in."
For Jesse, that includes everything from salary-cap issues to rap music. He's the only one of the six kids who lives with Jerry, and he's currently studying business at LMU. They go on several scouting trips each year together. My dad has a great eye for athleticism," he says. "He's very good at making comparisons between various players. I try to relay information to him, since, let's face it, I have a lot more free time than he does."
"He's on his computer three hours a night, and most of that is spent on basketball," Jerry says.
While Buss is planning on Jesse being part of running the Lakers, Jesse himself isn't sure that will happen right away. He's had some success managing a San Diego-area band, Randam Luck, that recently signed a record deal. Clearly, he's keeping his options open. "I think as you get older, you start to learn more about yourself, what really makes you happy. I realize what I'm thinking now might not be the way I'm thinking when I'm 25."
The only Buss sibling who is not planning to be involved in the Lakers' next phase is Johnny, the oldest. After leading his dad's WNBA franchise, the Sparks, to two championships, he's been there and done that. "I was happy for him, because I think people second-guessed his ability to run a sports team," Jerry says. "A lot of people didn't agree with his plans or ideas, so for him to win...that says it all."
As for why Johnny is staying away from the family business, he says, "I trust my brother, and I trust my sisters. I really think they understand the overall goal at heartto continue to drive a profitable business and do the best you can on the floor." He has instead started a social networking site, musester.com ("A Musester is someone who advances the enjoyment of art, entertainment and creativity to brighten our world"). "I've been an artist all my life, and I'm really excited about what I'm doing. As long as the Lakers are running smoothly, they won't hear from meI'll be happy."
The Two Inevitabilities
Despite all of his preparation, there is one thing papa Buss admits could derail the ownership plan: the inheritance tax: "It's a severe economic issue for me. It's an ongoing one, and I'm addressing it as best I can. I'm prepaying the taxes, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I live long enough to accomplish the whole thing."
Could it force a sale? "It could," he says. "There are rules and regulations, but we're getting to a point where I'm pretty sure my family can hold on to the team." If that happens, the kids claim it will be a smooth transition. They insist the stories of family infighting that have brought down so many teams will never apply to the Lakers.
"I've seen what happens with other teams in other leagues that are in our situation," Jeanie says. "I know we live in an age when conflict sells newspapers, and people like to hear about siblings fighting. It makes for interesting media. But we've all found our place. We know how much we can help each other, and we all want the same thing."
And what they want is for the Los Angeles Lakers to remain the Buss family business.
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