Even in death — maybe especially in death — Jerry Buss is revered as a guiding light for the Lakers. Many of the franchise’s issues are framed around what the late owner — who won 10 championships behind Showtime, Shaq and Kobe — would do.
That’s why, when he wanted to endorse Byron Scott as coach, Magic Johnson didn’t simply express his own faith in Scott. Johnson said Buss wanted Scott to coach the Lakers.
It’s also why, when he wanted to tweak Jim Buss — Jerry’s son — Johnson didn’t simply express his own dissatisfaction. Johnson said Jerry would be disappointed in the state of the Lakers.
What else did Jerry think according to Johnson?
DR. BUSS’ CHOICE to have Jeanie run the franchise after his death was always clear. His choice for who was best suited to run the franchise alongside his daughter was not.
“He’d tell me his vision was for Jeanie and I to run it. She knew that too,” says Magic Johnson. “[But] He couldn’t put me in that position. I told him that. I was upfront with him. I’d say, ‘You have four boys — there’s no way that’s going to go over well.'”
A few days before his death in February 2013, Dr. Buss summoned Johnson to visit him in the hospital. Johnson had sold his Lakers shares and become part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, seemingly moving on from the dream of a role with the Lakers.
“Jeanie had called and told me to come up, that he wanted to see me,” Johnson says. “And he said it again. He said, ‘I always thought you guys would run it.’ We were both sitting there crying about it because he knew I was right. … Back then, it would have been a lot of resentment. It would have been difficult.”
This feels pretty gross.
I’m not assuming Johnson is intentionally misdescribing Jerry’s words to make himself look good. But I’m also not assuming Johnson, who publicly campaigned to run the Lakers’ front office while supposedly advising the previous regime, isn’t intentionally misdescribing Jerry’s words to make himself look good.
Either way, we have only Johnson’s interpretation of what Jerry said. We obviously can’t ask Jerry to clarify — and that’s why I’d prefer Johnson stops speaking for Jerry posthumously.
While Johnson was still playing, Jerry talked about making Johnson his protege, eventually hiring Johnson as coach or general manager. After brief coaching stint, Johnson bought a stake of the team in 1994 and spent time in the front office under Jerry (and returns now under Jeanie Buss).
But Jerry also spent a lot of time advocating for Jim to run basketball operations. Jerry valued having his children involved, as shown by the setup he left. Even Jeanie knew that, which is why she gave Jim so much rope.
My best guess: Jerry had multiple, sometimes competing, desires about who’d run the Lakers and stated them in a way that allowed others to hear what they wanted to hear.
But I don’t know that, and I’m not going to speak definitively on behalf of a dead man.