Maybe there is a parallel universe in which the rules that apply to the rest of us--for instance, that posing nude for Playboy will undercut a woman’s credibility--are irrelevant.
Certainly, the privileged world of Jeanie Buss is different from the one in which most of us live. She was 18 when her father purchased the Lakers, the Kings and the Forum. Today, at 33, after many sports executive permutations, she owns the Blades, a fledgling roller hockey team; is a director of the Lakers, and on June 1 will become president and director of booking for the Great Western Forum.
While her May pictorial for Playboy did not go completely unnoticed, it was overshadowed by the fuss over 54-year-old Nancy Sinatra’s unveiling in the same issue.
But turn to the right page and you will find her--half clad, sprawling across a desk; in bra, garter belt and spiked heels amid the seats of an empty Forum; in shoulder pads, skates and nothing else in the Blades’ locker room.
Her decision to pose nude raises a modest conflict experienced by many men and women about the relatively tame Playboy pictorials. We may think, for instance, that celebrating sexuality and being in control of one’s body is a good thing, and if women want to shed their clothes for fun and profit, who are we to object?
But we also know that this is sexual exploitation--that it encourages women to be judged on their value as objects of male gratification and that the cause of equality is poorly served by buying into a lopsided world where “celebrating” sexuality usually means looking only at pictures of naked women, not naked men.
And so, the only important question to ask of Buss is “Why?”
Why did she--a woman who might run the Lakers one day, who operates in a world notoriously hostile to women and who has spoken freely about the difficulties of trying to prove one’s competence when one is the boss’s kid, let alone his daughter --take off her clothes?
I could be wrong, but these are my theories on why Buss offered her services to Playboy. They are based on a conversation we had at the Forum last week.
* To emphasize the end of an ill-fated marriage.
In 1990, Buss married Olympic gold medalist and pro volleyball player Steve Timmons. They separated after three years, she says, when she realized that his plans to remodel their Manhattan Beach home did not include more than one bedroom.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, but where is the kid gonna go?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was thinking maybe we shouldn’t have kids.’ ”
After the split, Buss says, she thought about “how to turn a negative into a positive” and made a list of things marriage had prevented her from doing. Posing for Playboy topped the list. And it doesn’t bother her at all, she says, that Timmons was perplexed by her decision.
“He said that he didn’t understand it, and I said, ‘I don’t really expect you to understand, but I do want you to understand that I am happy about it.’ Certainly I hope that he sees the pictures. . . . And I hope someday we can be friends, but right now we aren’t.”
* As a response to complicated feelings about her father, involving attention, approval and, oddly, family tradition.
“When I was 18, my dad had just bought the Lakers . . . and he knew a lot of the girls (who posed for Playboy),” Buss says.
“He was dating a lot of them, and he would introduce me, like, ‘This is Penny and she is in the February issue, this is Star, she’s coming up.’ The women were beautiful. He also owned the Playboy Club in Phoenix in the ‘70s. My aunt, his sister, was a bunny. So it really wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that would be horrible if you ever did that.’ It was more like I didn’t think I had the potential.”
* Because she can.
“I always wanted to do this, but I was the kid in gym class who would get undressed in the shower stall,” Buss says. “I was so freaked out about my body. I got older and more mature and more comfortable with myself. So it was great (during the shoot) to say, ‘You know what? It’s just a breast.’ ”
* Because she doesn’t care what you think.
“One of my father’s attorneys said, ‘I just don’t see how this is going to help you get where you want to go.’ And I said, ‘I have spent so much time trying to impress everybody. I could go get an MBA from Harvard, I could work 20 hours a day and I still might not be able to get where I want to go. I am tired of trying to prove myself to everybody. I am tired of apologizing or trying to figure out what people want.”
* To promote roller hockey.
When Buss sent a recruiting letter to a prospective roller hockey player in Canada, she included a copy of Playboy and told him to turn to Page 70 for more information about the team owner.
“Believe me, this was not a career move,” Buss says. “But if it can help me, then it’s an opportunity. And, judging from letters that I have gotten from across the country, people have never heard of roller hockey, so at least I have drawn attention to it.”
The hockey player, by the way, signed up.
Proof of the parallel universe?
* Robin Abcarian’s column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.