Lakers owner talks criticism, hardships of NBA spotlight

Jeanie Buss, owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, spoke to a sports journalism class at Chapman March 27. Photo by Cassidy Keola

Despite the signing of superstar LeBron James prior to the start of the 2018-19 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to find themselves progressing, through the team’s sixth straight season with more losses than wins. As part of a swirl of rumors around the team’s offseason plans, a headline emerged asserting the Lakers were in pursuit of the Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers to replace their own Luke Walton, explained Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. Yet, according to her, the rumor held no truth.

“The headline … was completely not true. It’s crazy,” Buss told Jeff Pearlman’s sports journalism class March 29.

Three days later, Rivers responded to the rumor establishing his intent to stay with the Clippers, a clear decision given he is under contract with the team until the end of the season in 2021.The next day, Buss said she believes the headline read “Lakers lose to Clippers again.”

“There was nothing to that at all,” Buss said, with a shake of her head. “How are you supposed to respond to that? I mean, should you respond to it?”

Buss spoke candidly about her career and sharing insight into today’s media criticism. She spent much of her life under the scrutiny of the Hollywood lights – when she was just 18, her father Jerry Buss bought the Lakers and ushered in the team that won five championships in the 1980s.

Buss said her father left each of his four children a stake in the Lakers when he passed away in 2013. In 2017, she outlasted her brothers in a legal battle to be named the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We haven’t lived up to the brand that (my father) created, and he created a culture of winning and success,” Buss said. “(The Lakers) were always relevant and they were always in the conversation, and I felt like the team had lost that importance.”

However, the Lakers still remain one of the most profitable teams in the league, ranked No. 2 overall on Forbes’ team valuation list, with a value of $3.7 billion. One student asked what Buss’ vision for the team was beyond winning championships.

“We want a team the community can be proud of, and we bring in players that can fit part of something bigger than their individual selves,” Buss said. “(I want to) build something special that, just as my dad said so many years ago, that the community can be proud of.”

Working to formulate that team over time has led to its share of sports journalism criticism. Unlike others, Buss said she doesn’t pretend like it doesn’t affect her. Buss said to Pearlman that words, in fact, do hurt.

“It does bother me,” Buss said. “Your weaknesses will be revealed … people will attack you at every level.”

Buss said dealing with reports like the Rivers controversy can be extremely difficult.

“If you respond to (a rumor) officially, you’re giving credibility to non-credible sources,” Buss said. “Yet, by not responding to it, then it has a life and it gets into the psyche of fans.”

From being named the general manager of the now-defunct Los Angeles Strings at 19 to studying business at University of Southern California to becoming a sports executive in a male-dominated industry, she learned a lesson – everybody’s out to beat you, she said.

Now, with 20 years of experience working for the Lakers under her belt, she summed up her ability to tune out the white noise with a simple statement and a smile.

“I can take it, at my age,” Buss said.

Buss’s vision for the team involves the intersection of team success and community, because “everybody can be under the flag” of the team’s classic purple-and-gold. The Lakers are a brand, Buss said, and she doesn’t plan to take her foot off the gas until she delivers a team the community is happy with.

“We won’t stop until we’re proud,” Buss said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately reported the Los Angeles Lakers’ team value. This information has been corrected.