"Born to the purple" means someone who comes into the world privileged and royal. That doesn't exactly describe Jeanie Buss. She was teenager when her father, Jerry Buss, bought the Los Angeles Lakers. After he died, Jeanie stepped into the job of president, overseeing the business side (her brother Jim handles the team). The purple-and-gold glamour of the Lakers draws more Web traffic and international fans than any other team in the NBA, as does its impressive list of wins and records. The terrible season this year is just a blip on that record, she promises; for the Lakers, it'll always be Showtime.
For the first time since 2005, the Lakers won't be in the playoffs. Have Laker fans been spoiled by success?
They're the best fans — we should spoil them!
[No one] is happy with this season. This isn't how we roll. Unfortunately, we were put out of the playoff race pretty early. But even [last week], a player like Nick Young — 40 points, a really big game — so you see bright spots.
Laker fans understand Kobe's injury, and bringing in Steve Nash, who had all the promise of something good and then gets injured. Our fans are in it through thick and thin. They need to see steps are being taken, an investment's being made in the team, that we're building for the future to get back to the promised land.
Is that why you are doing more interviews?
It's not my style usually to assert myself so strongly, but I want the fans to know that we're going to get the team back to where it should be.
It's been a year since you lost your father; how are you doing?
There's just days when it feels heavy on your heart. Some days I have dreams about him and he's himself, the way I remember him, not how he was in the last few months. Then I feel closer [to him]. I think that's normal grieving for people.
How has your role changed since he died?
He had been preparing me for a long time, me in my position, my siblings doing what they're doing. He was the person you could go to and talk things through; I just don't have that person I can call when things are tough or a big decision needs to be made.
Did you father design the management setup based on your and your brother's skills?
Yes, he knew our strong points, and I think he prepared us to be successful. He wanted this team to stay in the family. People ask me, is this what you always wanted to do? From the time I was in elementary school, I wanted to work in the family business. [First] it was real estate development. Then my dad switched to sports. I just like working with my family; I like building something together.
Is your business relationship with your brother Jim different from your sibling relationship?
I'm ultimately accountable. If someone isn't living up to expectations, [to] responsibilities, it's up to me to make the change that's necessary, so I guess that puts me in a different situation than just siblings. The media like to pump up that, but my brother has said it as well, that Jeanie's in charge and ultimately he would have to answer to me. But I don't run it like a dictatorship. I like to build consensus. I like everyone to have a voice in how we operate.
You've been called the most powerful woman in pro sports.
I don't think of myself that way. There's some pretty powerful women in sports now. The [NBA] governor for the New Orleans team is the granddaughter of Tom Benson, who owned the Saints. An operating executivewith the Brooklyn Nets is a woman. There are more women in the business.
Your title is president and governor. What does that mean?
The NBA requires that one person is the acting owner, the one person they can get on the phone and is accountable for anything that happens. That's why my dad started taking me to NBA board of governors meetings in 1995; you have to be approved as the owner. They had to get to know me, to know how I manage things, so they had a strong comfort level with me when it came time for that approval.
Has the attitude toward you changed over the last 10 or 20 years?
Absolutely. Having experience gives you credibility, and people know me now, they know what I bring, the integrity I have.
Describe your job.
I'm here to provide the tools to our front office so they can be successful, to sign the players and make sure they have what they need to train and be successful, making sure we have good broadcast agreements.
The Dodgers are getting an earful about their TV deal from fans who can't see the games.
We went through that last year, and it's tough, but the deal we did allowed all our games to be in one place. Before, half our games were on Fox and the other half were on KCAL. Each of them had other programming after the game or before. The Laker channel allows us to have pregame and postgame shows, and ancillary programming; it allows people more of a connection with the team.
Does it help the Lakers, not having to compete with an L.A. NFL team for fans?
Absolutely. I think any NBA team in a major market would love the opportunity. But even when there were the Raiders and the Rams, we were winning championships too.
My dad used to say to me, every person who lives in L.A. has friends or family who come visit. When they come, they want to go to the beach, to go to Disneyland, to see a celebrity. You can take them to the beach and to Disneyland, but where can you take them where they will for sure see a movie star? A Lakers game. He knew to make sure we have a great basketball team but also make it about entertainment.
Kobe Bryant's contract will take him to his 20th anniversary with the Lakers. Is the era over of the player who spends his entire career with one team?
I don't think you're ever going to see that again. We don't draft players at 17 anymore. The average career for an NBA player may be six or seven years, so to see someone compete as he has for 20 years makes it really special. Heck, if we win a championship in his last year and he's MVP … ! He's an assassin out there.
Do you play basketball yourself?
I played in high school. I never played varsity. I was a senior playing JV, but I liked mentoring the younger players. I think my coach appreciated my enthusiasm.
Lakers ex-coach and your fiance, Phil Jackson, is now president of the New York Knicks. Is that working out logistically?
Over the summer, I'm working and he's at his home in Montana, so I see him maybe one or two weeks out of every month. [Otherwise] we're on a pretty similar schedule. I travel to New York; I can do a lot of business there. People do [bicoastal relationships] all the time.
Do fans buttonhole you?
Yes, and I want them to! I don't think of myself as recognizable, but that happens. On Twitter, people will send a picture of their baby or dog in a Lakers outfit and I retweet it. Is there any better compliment than wanting to put the baby in purple and gold?
Do you listen to sports talk radio?
Any executive who doesn't read the beat writers, listen to what the fans have to say, is missing an incredible opportunity to help do their job. Some fans think every player on the Western all-star team should be a Laker, they want to go 82 and 0. I love that, but we have to operate within the economics, the collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap.
I read something that made me laugh. You posed for Playboy in 1995, and your father's attorney didn't think that would help you get where you wanted to go. You told him you could get a Harvard MBA and work 20 hours a day and you still might not get where you wanted to go. You said, "I'm tired of trying to prove myself to everybody."
Now I think, what if I had talked myself out of it, and then had regrets? Forget what it was: I'm glad I've been able to make those decisions. I loved Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, the pinups. I'm glad I did it. Would I do it today? No, I couldn't do it now.
I took a stand-up comedy class because I'd always wanted to. It was three hours once a week after work, and I was exhausted, but it was fun and I was mad at myself that I hadn't done it 15 years ago. My goal wasn't to be a comedian. My goal was to become [a better storyteller]. Everyone's got their story, so how do you make it funny?
Kobe Bryant has said being sidelined made him feel like killing everybody every time he went to the arena.
He's probably impossible to live with right now. Phil's the same way. We play Scrabble and Phil would not only have to beat me, he'd have to double my score. Guys like this have to have an outlet, and Kobe got to play [only] six games this whole year.
Have you ever beaten Jackson at Scrabble?
No, and now he plays Words With Friends. I don't even try that. He's got people to play with him who can give him a good run for his money. He's so competitive; he loves to win. He was driving me crazy. I'm so glad he found a job!
This interview has been edited and excerpted. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @pattmlatimesCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times