Lakers expected to remain a Buss family-owned team

The Lakers, a city treasure that sports one of the NBA’s highest payrolls and generations of loyal fans, are said to be worth an estimated $1 billion.

But will they remain the property of the Buss family after team owner Jerry Buss’ death Monday?

AEG Chairman Philip Anschutz, who owns Staples Center, the Kings and 27% of the Lakers, has the right of first refusal if the Buss family wants to sell the franchise, according to spokesmen from both AEG and the Lakers. Buss purchased the team in 1979. Other owners include Patrick Soon-Shiong with 4% and Ed Roski with 3%. The Buss family owns the remaining 66%.

So, it doesn’t seem a sale is likely, according to a statement released Monday by family members.

“It was our father’s often stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy,” the statement said.

The ownership stake held by the Buss family will now be held in a trust. The team cannot be sold off in smaller pieces, only in its two-thirds entirety, according to longtime Buss family spokesman Bob Steiner.

“The entity cannot be split,” Steiner said Monday.

The lucrative TV deal the franchise struck last year with Time Warner Cable was viewed as a key to keeping the team in the family. It is worth $3.6 billion over 20 years and potentially $5 billion if the Lakers exercise a five-year extension at the end of the contract.

It’s a sizable cushion until at least 2032 that patches over innumerable annual costs, including the Lakers’ $100-million payroll for a stunningly underperforming team this season.

“The future of the organization will remain unchanged,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “Dr. Buss set it up years in advance. He planned for continuation, for the team to remain within the family. That’s something that he did undertake.”

Even if some Buss family members wanted to sell, there would be factors limiting that possibility. A majority vote (four of six) would be needed among Buss’ adult children — Jim, Jeanie, Johnny, Joey, Jesse, and Janie Drexel. Buss’ ex-wife, JoAnn, also owns an undisclosed share of the team that is part of the family stake, but she does not get a vote.

Jeanie will be listed as the team’s governor, a position that gives her the power to voice the Lakers’ vote on issues at owners’ meetings. She has been the team’s alternate governor for several years but now takes her father’s title. On paper, it makes her the most powerful of the heirs.

Despite limitations preventing an individual heir from selling the team, the relationship between Jim and Jeanie Buss will be important.

They were put on divergent paths by their father several years ago — Jim oversees basketball operations, Jeanie is in charge of the business side — and they experienced conflict in November when Mike D’Antoni, not Phil Jackson, was hired to coach the Lakers after Mike Brown was abruptly fired.

Jeanie, Jackson’s fiance, believed her brother would rehire the former Lakers coach after meeting with him at Jackson’s Playa del Rey house.

The job was not offered at the time to Jackson, who requested two days to ponder a return to basketball. A day later, however, the Lakers hired D’Antoni and followed it up with an infamous midnight phone call to Jackson, waking him up to inform him he would not return to the Lakers. Jeanie was notably displeased, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Jim and Jeanie were at their father’s side often as Buss battled a rare undisclosed form of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His official cause of death was kidney failure, a complication from the cancer.

“Things will continue with them each having their own responsibilities,” Steiner said. “There doesn’t need to be one over the other.”

Johnny has been less of a fixture with the franchise, though he holds a title as the team’s executive vice president of strategic development. Joey, Jesse and Janie Drexel are also employees of the Lakers’ organization.