Lakers fans have always felt uneasy talking about the reality that hit the team today — life for the organization after Jerry Buss, who passed away Monday morning.
The Hall of Fame Lakers owner was the man with the vision and plan that made the Lakers the most successful franchise in the NBA of the last 30 years. He was brilliant at marketing but he also hired people with good basketball instincts and he understood the value of stars in the NBA. Under him, the Lakers made the NBA finals 48 percent of the years since he bought the team.
Now his children take over the organization and a new legacy begins. Every title, all the success so far goes on Jerry’s side of the Lakers ledger. It’s now tabula rasa.
If one thing should be clear from what the family said Monday is should be this — the Lakers are not being sold. It is something the family said in a statement in January, said in a statement again Monday and was reiterated by a team spokesman later on Monday at a press conference. The Buss family will continue to control the franchise.
“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 family said in a statement.
Jerry Buss’ six children each have a stake in a complicated trust that gives them as a group a majority ownership of the franchise (believed to be about 65 percent, with AEG the next largest owner at about 30 percent). Jim, Jeanie and Johnny manage the trust. Each family member has some role in the organization.
Jim Buss has and will maintain ultimate control of the of the basketball side of the operations (something he has basically done for several years now working with Mitch Kupchak). However, on the basketball side Jerry was always the ultimate decider, now that falls to Jim. Jeanie Buss will continue to run the business side of the operation, as she has done for a decade. She has a fantastic reputation around the league with other owners.
Reports had surfaced that, at least before their father’s recent turn for the worse, Jim and Jeanie had not spoken since Jeanie’s fiancé Phil Jackson was interviewed but turned down to return as Lakers coach.
The question on everyone’s mind is “can Jim live up to his father’s legacy? Or will there be changes?” In the short term, probably not much changes. In the long term… that remains to be seen.
Jerry was a gambler, but a guy who always did his research then trusted his conclusions. Like the good poker player he was, when he took a risk it was calculated not impulsive. He stayed true to his vision.
Whether Jim Buss has both the vision and ability to pull that off remains to be seen. His test starts now.
If Jeanie and Jim work together, the Lakers could and should remain one of the most powerful franchises and brands the NBA has. However, there is the potential Shakespearian-level drama if there is a struggle for power.
And if that happens Lakers fans should be worried, because the fantastic success of the organization started with stability and vision from the top.