Column: The Lakers are officially Jeanie Buss’ team, so what will she do?
The monthlong fight between Jeanie Buss and her brothers, Jim and Johnny, to control the Lakers is over and the Oakland Raiders relocated to Las Vegas.
She is firmly in her father’s chair now, no more shadow, no more question.
Four years after the death of the legendary Jerry Buss, his daughter finally, formally emerged Monday as the powerful leader of Los Angeles’ most powerful sports franchise.
The Lakers are now Jeanie Buss’ team. It’s official, it’s indisputable, and it’s for as long as she wants.
The formal ascension occurred with a bold and smart move her father would have loved. In one maneuver, Buss not only squelched the recent attempted family coup, but placed the rebel leader in exile while cementing control over the future of a franchise desperate for stability.
Jeanie and brothers Jim and Johnny agreed to a legal stipulation, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that Jeanie will serve as the Lakers’ controlling owner for as long as the Buss family owns the team.
At the same time, Jim, who led the recent attack on Jeanie’s throne, agreed to resign as one of three trustees, surrendering that position to sister Janie, who is Jeanie’s ally. The third trustee is still Johnny, who was also part of the coup but can now count on being outvoted if he decides to challenge his sister again.
So Jim is out, Janie is in, Johnny has been neutralized, and the buck stops with Jeanie, which is where it always should have stopped.
While all the documents are expected to be approved in a hearing Wednesday, for better or worse, and here’s guessing better, the Lakers’ future has formally begun.
Streisand, who has rescued both local NBA teams after earlier navigating the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, said the real winners here are the Lakers.
“I can’t imagine a more important symbol for Los Angeles pride than the L.A. Lakers,” he said. “Now with the Lakers having the ability to focus on the basketball court and not the legal court, I think all Laker fans can breathe a sigh of relief.”
I think all Laker fans can breathe a sigh of relief.
Adam Streisand, Jeanie’s attorney
While Jeanie has been the controlling owner since her father’s death, it had always been an ambiguous control. Jerry Buss gave her the business side, he gave Jim the basketball operations, and the two siblings kept their distance as their efforts headed in two vastly different directions. While the Lakers economically continued to flourish under Jeanie, their basketball business floundered under Jim.
His first three seasons were marred by failed free-agent pursuits, bad draft picks and lousy veteran acquisitions. During that time the Lakers finished with the two worst seasons in the franchise’s Los Angeles history. With nine games remaining in the current season, these Lakers are on pace to finish with the third-worst record in the franchise’s Los Angeles history.
Only after Jim had run the team into the ground did Jeanie finally exert her ultimate authority by reassigning him late last month. He almost immediately challenged that authority in court, and while the threat was initially rebuffed, there was still a probate court trial scheduled for May 15 to resolve the matter.
The documents filed Monday have eliminated the need for that trial. All uncertainty has ended. The buck now stops with Jeanie, both in Lakers basketball and Lakers business, just as it once did with her father.
Here’s hoping that, moving forward, she will be as bold and tough with the team as she was with her brothers.
She has already made a surprise move by naming Lakers icon Magic Johnson as the basketball boss, and then approving the hiring of agent Rob Pelinka as the general manager. While both men have admirably thrown themselves into their new jobs — they missed the Shaquille O’Neal statue ceremony Friday to scout top college prospects in the NCAA tournament — their real impact will be felt after the season.
This is also where Jeanie Buss will first show her basketball grit. The Lakers will need to make some brash moves to begin a serious rebuilding that should have started three years ago, and she will have to approve some things that might make fans uncomfortable.
Second, is she willing to sign off on a fresh lottery pick who might not be the obvious and popular choice? The folks in town love UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, but anybody watching him get beat around by Kentucky’s two star freshman guards on Friday night in the NCAA regional at Memphis will surely have questions. Then there is the issue of his publicity-crazed father LaVar and all the drama he might bring. There is a chance the Lakers could have a shot at Ball, but maybe Ball is not the best pick, maybe it’s Kansas’ Josh Jackson, or Washington’s Markelle Fultz, or Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, who scored an NCAA tournament freshman-record 39 points against UCLA. Are the Lakers willing to take the publicity hit and pass on the local?
Finally, can Jeanie Buss be the free-agent closer the Lakers have been lacking? Johnson is a tremendous salesman, but many think that the Lakers would not have had as much trouble attracting talent in recent years if Buss had been a more prominent part of the sales pitch. Her love for the Lakers is infectious, her devotion to Los Angeles is contagious, she would be the perfect person to close the deal. Now that she finally has all the power, she also has the freedom to use that aura to attract top talent.
There will be lots of chatter about the beginning of the Jeanie Buss era, but at least one oft-repeated refrain over the last several years will finally cease.
As Jim’s decisions slowly stained the Lakers brand, folks would often shake their heads and say, “If only Jeanie was running the whole show.”
Well, now she’s running the whole show, and what interesting theater it should be.
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