Column: In stopping her brothers’ attempted takeover, Jeanie Buss shows she’s in charge of Lakers — for now
Just when it appeared Jeanie Buss had finally cleaned house, the Lakers palace is suddenly under attack, from inside the walls, in an attempted coup as insidious as it is sad.
Two scorned and forgotten men are coming after her crown in an effort filled with bitterness and reeking of desperation. That these men are her two older brothers is enough to make the memory of patriarch Jerry Buss weep.
Two weeks ago, Jeanie Buss removed Jim Buss as the Lakers’ basketball boss, and now he apparently wants revenge.
Several years ago, Johnny Buss disappeared from the headlines after a shaky ownership experience with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, and now he apparently wants relevancy.
Neither Jim nor Johnny wants their sister to run the Lakers, and scheduled a shareholders meeting next week to dethrone her before her lawyers ended the threat Friday in the best defense the Lakers have played all year.
Yeah, the only thing missing from this latest act is a play-by-play call from Shakespeare.
It can all be found in court documents first reported by The Los Angeles Times on Friday afternoon, when the brothers at least temporarily backed down after attorneys for Jeanie Buss sought a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles Superior Court.
What they were attempting to restrain was the coup, which was set to take place at a March 7 shareholder meeting. According to court documents, Jim and Johnny Buss were going to use that meeting to alter the list of Lakers directors to exclude Jeanie, which means she could no longer serve as the team’s controlling owner.
This move would go against the legally stated wishes of their late father Jerry, who made it clear she would be the controlling owner upon his death in February of 2013.
When finally taken to court Friday, the older Buss brothers raised a white flag and canceled the meeting, but a probate trial has been scheduled for May, and Jeanie Buss’ fight to maintain control may have just begun.
“This is no doubt the beginning and not the end of the game-playing,’’ said Adam Streisand, the attorney for Jeanie Buss.
But court documents reveal that the threat was real, and the brothers’ quest was only stopped by the real possibility of legal action, and there is nothing to stop them from trying again.
Streisand was the lawyer who helped engineer the Steve Ballmer purchase of the Clippers. Now, in a very real way, he is being asked to save the Lakers.
No, you don’t want Jim Buss back running a franchise he nearly ruined. As for Johnny Buss, he is best known these days for JBU Photo, a photo studio that, according to his online portfolio, produces artsy photos of half-naked women.
Neither man seems capable of running a basketball team, which makes one think there must be more to this than basketball.
Maybe it’s a money grab. Maybe they are trying to get the other four members of the Buss clan who combine to own 66% of the team to buy them out of their share. Johnny is 60, Jim is 57, and a big chunk of money now at this stage of their lives might be preferable to waiting for yearly dividend checks, even if those checks are about $10 million annually these days.
Or maybe it’s a jealousy thing. Maybe because they are older, the brothers thought the controlling interest should have been left to them. After all, Jim showed an envious streak a couple of years ago when he refused to rehire Phil Jackson while Jackson and Jeanie were engaged.
Or maybe both men are upset with Jeanie’s decision to replace Jim Buss with her longtime ally Magic Johnson without a thorough search. Since the shareholder’s meeting was set up just three days after the Johnson hiring, maybe this was a response to what they both felt was a lack of due diligence.
Whatever it is, this is not just Jeanie Buss’ nightmare, but the fear of every Lakers fan. Since the death of Jerry Buss, everyone has wondered if the legendarily eccentric family could find a way to survive the tough times. Without their glue, how would they be able to stick together?
It turns out, not very well. And, regrettably, few people on the NBA landscape are actually surprised.
What happened in a downtown courtroom Friday plays into every tired stereotype about the dysfunctional, chaotic, looney tunes Lake Show. It devalues the real progress made by Jeanie Buss in recent weeks to return credibility to the brand. For potential free agents, it is a cloud that could even darken Magic Johnson’s best recruiting smile.
And like Streisand said, it’s not over with yet. The older Buss brothers are surely going to keep coming for their sister’s crown, with buckets of money and teams of lawyers and attacks from all directions. If they can find a loophole in their father’s wishes, they will find it, and only a victory in probate court will end the struggle.
However, if it was the older Buss brothers’ intention to weaken their sister with this initial strike, they have failed. In filing the restraining order request Friday, Jeanie Buss heard the swords outside her door and acted swiftly to silence them. It was the second powerful move in the last two weeks by a powerful woman who is clearly done sitting quietly in her Staples Center seat.
On a day when it was revealed that her entire authority was under attack, Jeanie Buss was unquestionably in charge. Now more than ever, for the Lakers to continue to pull themselves out of the madness, she has to remain that way.
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