Don't worry, Los Angeles Lakers fans. Jeanie Buss wants you to know that she's in charge of the operation that her father, the late Dr. Jerry Buss, left to her and her five siblings when he passed away last year:
That's what she told Lakers broadcaster Bill McDonald in an interview on Tuesday, a portion of which aired during Access SportsNet on Time Warner Cable SportsNet in L.A. The full sit-down is set to air at 5:30 p.m. PT on the network, before the Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs.
Buss covered a wide range of Lakers-related topics during her chat with McDonald, from Phil Jackson joining the New York Knicks and her relationship with her family to Kobe Bryant's future and the opportunity this year's NBA draft lottery represents for her beloved Purple and Gold. Below are some of the highlights from Buss' interview.
On Her Fiance, the Zen Master
Coincidentally (or not), Buss stepped back into the public eye on the very same day that her fiance, Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, was officially introduced as team president of the New York Knicks. When asked why Jackson wound up in the Knicks' front office and not that of the Lakers, Buss explained that there simply wasn't an opening for her restless mate to fill:
Buss then pointed out that while working with the Knicks will be "a job" for Jackson, her commitment to the Lakers is for life. When pressed about whether Jackson was ever offered a position in L.A., Buss said he wasn't and that his recent appearances at Staples Center, most notably during Shaquille O'Neal's jersey retirement, were not made in any official capacity. She reiterated that there wasn't a position available in the front office that would've been commensurate with Jackson's immense basketball knowledge:
Jeanie Buss, "he's too good of a basketball mind to be sitting home in a rocking chair playing solitaire"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 19, 2014
“I wanted him to pursue something that would fulfill him. The decision was his to make” - @JeanieBuss— Josh Martin (@JoshMartinNBA) March 19, 2014
Buss wished Jackson well in New York, though not at the Lakers' expense. She told McDonald that she'd met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Monday night, during which they discussed the potential for a conflict of interest now that Buss' significant other is in a position of power with another franchise.
"I don't anticipate any problem," Buss explained, "because I don't make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers." Buss works exclusively on the business and marketing side of the organization, and serves as the team's representative on the NBA's Board of Governors. Her brother, executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, is the one who handles matters on the basketball end.
Though, given the contentious nature of Jim's relationship with her future husband, whatever conflict might arise between the Buss' Lakers and Jackson's Knicks might be one of something other than interest.
As much as Buss wanted Jackson to stay in southern California, she and her family didn't want to keep him from pursuing opportunities elsewhere if he so chose, given the Lakers' lack of a place for him.
"I wanted Phil to know...if there was no role for him with the Lakers, that he should be free to pursue other interests," Buss added. She insisted that Jackson's decision was his alone and that she planned to support him, even though she knows she'll miss him.
On Her Presence at Lakers Games
Buss cited Jackson as one of the reasons she hasn't been the as visible at Lakers games over the past two years as she used to be. She explained that she wanted to make up for the time lost between herself and Jackson to his days and weeks away on the road with the Lakers. Prior to that, Buss' desire to spend time with her ailing father kept her from her unofficial duties as "mayor" of Staples Center.
Buss insisted, though, that her connection to the franchise is as strong as ever. "The Lakers are my life," she said. "This is the family business. The family's going to own the team for as long as the family's together."
Buss went on to say that, with Jackson gone, she anticipates that her attention will be more fully trained on being an ambassador for the Lakers—which should come as music to the ears of those fans who've long called for her to assume a bigger role within the organization.
"Now that my fiance is going to have something to occupy his time," Buss added, "that's going to free me up to be able to go to games again."
On Her Family
McDonald asked Buss the question that's been on the minds and tongues of Laker Nation for some time now: Are she and her siblings, Jim in particular, on the same page? In response, Buss stressed the importance of fulfilling her father's wishes by operating the team in concert with her siblings.
"The way my father left things was for us to operate the team as a family," Buss explained, adding that she and her siblings meet to discuss major matters. "Where I have influence, it's important to me to have teamwork, to build consensus, to have everybody on the same page, and even if there's disagreement, to get an understanding of why. That's my style of dealing with things."
As for whether Dr. Buss' progeny are all of one mind, Buss left some wiggle room:
“By and large, we are all on the same page” - @JeanieBuss on the Buss family— Josh Martin (@JoshMartinNBA) March 19, 2014
On Kobe Bryant
Buss responded with class when asked about Kobe Bryant's comments regarding his frustrations with the front office and the direction of the team from a press conference last week.
"He's such a competitor, and I can only imagine what he's going through right now because he has no outlet for that," Buss said. "I lived with that. I lived with Phil Jackson and I know how competitive he is, and if that competitiveness is not fed or have an outlet, they can drive you crazy."
Buss said that she'll speak with Bryant later and insisted that she hasn't second-guessed the front office's decision to give him a two-year, $48.5 million extension earlier this season. Beyond her belief that Bryant will return more like his old self next season, Buss discussed how important it was for her and the organization to give the Black Mamba the proper sendoff that Magic Johnson never had.
"To have the kind of longevity that he's had is extremely special," Buss said in reference to Bryant being slated to spend 20 years as a Laker, assuming he plays out the entirety of his extension.
Buss acknowledged the importance of salary-cap considerations, but implored the fans to focus instead on the players, the team and how it all comes together:
"I don't wear a hat and a t-shirt with cap space on it. It just doesn't seem like a warm, cuddly thing” - @JeanieBuss— Josh Martin (@JoshMartinNBA) March 19, 2014
Ultimately, Buss was pleased to know that Bryant would spend his entire playing career with the Lakers, that he'd be, in essence, a "Laker for life":
"To have Kobe retire as a Laker, that to me is really important, and I'm thrilled” - @JeanieBuss— Josh Martin (@JoshMartinNBA) March 19, 2014
Bryant, for one, appreciated Buss' show of support
On the Future
When asked about what forlorn Lakers fans can hang their proverbial hats on going forward, Buss restated her support for Jim and GM Mitch Kupchak in their efforts to restore the team to its former glory:
"I have complete confidence in Jimmy and Mitch to put together the kind of team that Laker fans are used to” - @JeanieBuss— Josh Martin (@JoshMartinNBA) March 19, 2014
She then encouraged Lakers fans to tune into March Madness to scout for themselves the swath of players from whom the team's next young star will likely be plucked in the 2014 NBA draft.
"I want Laker fans to watch the NCAA tournament and watch the players have this great platform and see who they like, who they think should be worthy of wearing a Lakers jersey, because that's where you start to see the personality. That's the part that I like. I like to see the leadership on the court. Who fits that Laker profile?"
Stay tuned in late June, when the Lakers make their pick.
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