Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is a pro wrestling fan. Actually, more than a fan. She co-owns Women of Wrestling (WOW) with David McLane, who previously founded Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling before GLOW became a popular Netflix series.
Buss hasn’t talked publicly since Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations in April, and she wasn’t seen at Monday’s news conference introducing Frank Vogel as the new coach. The introduction took place hours after Johnson went on national television and accused Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka of backstabbing him.
The only real public appearance Buss has made since the end of the Lakers’ season was at the Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. last Thursday night to watch a taping of WOW and support the promotion’s champion, Tessa Blanchard.
“This is a passion project of mine and I couldn’t be more proud of the product that has been created,” Buss said. “I’m a fan, so I like watching the storylines unfold. I’m such a fan that I get tongue-tied when I get to meet Tessa Blanchard.”
Buss refused to comment on the Lakers beyond saying she was “happy and excited” about hiring Vogel. She said she would talk when the time was right. Until she does, the soap opera that is unfolding with the Lakers is more over the top than anything scripted in pro wrestling. The only thing missing is Johnson interrupting the Lakers’ next news conference to hit Pelinka with a steel chair.
Although Buss was at the Lakers facility Monday, she decided to keep a low profile. She was away from the spotlight and cameras, just as she was last week while watching her favorite WOW performers. As much as she enjoys watching the show, she doesn’t envision ever stepping into the ring like WWE owner Vince McMahon and being part of it.
“I don’t think so, but I guess I’m part of the storyline just because I’m an investor,” Buss said. “I guess I’m part of the story whether I’m in front of the camera or behind the camera.”
The same is true with her role on the reality show unfolding with the Lakers. The difference is she will need to step in front of the camera and be a bigger part of that storyline sooner rather than later.
LeBron James showed up fashionably late to Vogel’s news conference and stood in the back of the gym near Josh Hart, listening to his new coach talk about plans for the team.
James’ presence could be seen as a show of support, but we don’t know for sure because James didn’t talk to reporters. He hasn’t answered questions since having his season ended in March. A public show of support for Vogel would have served as a bright spot on an otherwise dark day for the franchise, but James wasn’t interested in talking about Vogel, Pelinka, Johnson or the direction of the team.
It looks like we’ll have to tune in to the next episode of “The Shop” on HBO if we want to know his thoughts.
Johnson and Pelinka's relationship was doomed from the start, largely because it was a prearranged marriage between people who had never worked with each other, and both wanted full control of the team. It’s incredible that Buss would repeat the mistake with the coaching staff.
Vogel and assistant Jason Kidd have no prior working relationship and both interviewed for the head coaching job. It would be foolish to expect Kidd not to angle for the job the way Pelinka angled for control of basketball operations. He has no loyalty to Vogel, just as Pelinka had no loyalty to Johnson. As terrible as the Johnson and Pelinka pairing was, the Vogel and Kidd pairing may be worse.
Tyronn Lue seemed like the perfect fit to be the Lakers next coach. Johnson said he would have hired him if he still were the team’s president, and he and Phil Jackson both told Buss that Lue was the best man for the job. So it was no surprise that the Lakers offered him a three-year, $18-million contract. The problem was that Lue wanted a five-year deal and didn’t want to be told who would be on his staff. The Lakers were adamant about Kidd being on the staff and also didn’t want to commit to more than three years.
According to people close to the negotiations, the Lakers were shocked Lue didn’t take their offer or budge on his demand for a five-year deal with an annual salary around $8 million. They felt as though they were negotiating against themselves, believing Lue wasn’t in the running for any other NBA coaching vacancies after getting fired last season following Cleveland’s 0-6 start. In the end, they went with Vogel, who was more than happy to accept a three-year deal and Kidd as an assistant coach.
Johnson’s interview with ESPN was apparently scheduled before the Lakers announced Vogel would be introduced Monday morning. If Johnson cared about not stealing Vogel’s spotlight or overshadowing the day, he easily could have pushed his appearance on “First Take” to Tuesday. He didn’t. He wanted it to have the impact it had, and to publicly put Pelinka on the hot seat.
Say what you will about Johnson, but many NBA players respect him and seek his guidance on big decisions. It’s going to be awfully hard for Pelinka to recruit some of those players after Johnson said Pelinka backstabbed him and couldn’t be trusted. Getting a superstar free agent this summer already was going to to be an uphill battle for Pelinka. It’s now going to be like climbing Mt. Everest without a rope.