How did the Lakers get here? The inside story of the Buss drama

ByRamona Shelburne ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It was long past time for Jeanie Buss to head home. Her headache had turned into a full-blown migraine hours ago -- spots in her field of vision; throbbing at the back of her skull; the works.

It was 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, and she had a few last calls to make before she could turn off the lights, leave the office and close the book on this, one of the most tumultuous weeks in Los Angeles Lakers history.

Earlier that week, with the Lakers headed toward a fourth straight losing season, Jeanie Buss fired Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, her brother Jim Buss, longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and communications director John Black. At the same time, she promoted Lakers great (and recently hired advisor) Magic Johnson to president of basketball operations.

It was dramatic and decisive -- the type of bold move her father, Hall of Famer Dr. Jerry Buss, was famous for. To the outside world, it seemed like she had finally swung the sword her father had bequeathed to her upon his death in 2013 and given the Lakers a new direction following four years of deep uncertainty.

But earlier that day, she had received word from her two older brothers that let her know this fight was far from over. Her eldest brother, Johnny Buss, had sent a notice that seemed, in essence, to outline a plan to oust Jeanie as the Lakers' governor and controlling owner. Her lawyers felt she'd have a strong case to thwart her brothers' plans, but the fact it even looked like the matter could end up in court was troubling.

It had been hard enough on Jeanie to fire Jim, Kupchak and Black. "You don't want to do that to your family," says Lakers executive Linda Rambis, a longtime friend whose office is across the hallway from Jeanie's. "You don't want to do that to other people who have families."

The Lakers had never hit a prolonged funk such as this. In the 34 years Jerry Buss owned the Lakers, they missed the playoffs only twice.

Jeanie found herself constantly asking: What would her father say? What would he do? He had given her final say on running the Lakers upon his death. He had trained her himself and trusted her with his kingdom. What, exactly, were his final wishes?

Was it to do everything she could to make the Lakers great -- even if that meant firing his son and her brother? Or was it to try to keep this family-owned and family-operated structure?

"She labored over it for a long time," Rambis says. "She heard all the people tell her, 'You're not capable. You don't have it in you.' It wasn't about that.

"It was about her finally saying, 'It's overdue, and I need to do this.'"

THERE WAS NO joy in making the final decision to fire the three men and promote Magic. There were no pelts on the wall -- not even a cocktail waiting for her -- just a plastic bag of pickles from Jerry's Famous Deli and half a turkey sandwich, leftover from the day's working lunchtime meeting, on a table inside Rambis' office.

About 10 years before his death, Dr. Buss had taught the two women to play poker at this very table.

"My dad always said poker is about stamina," Jeanie Buss says. "People think it's luck or you have to be aggressive and ballsy. And he's like, 'No, you have to know your spot, and you have to be disciplined and ballsy enough to hold back but then not get so tired and run down that you're still sharp.'"

Buss thought of those lessons shortly before the All-Star break, when, as she was packing for the game in New Orleans, it finally hit her. She called Rambis and told her the time had come to make a change.Buss had finally found the hand she wanted to play.

Three weeks before, Buss had installed Magic Johnson, a Lakers legend and one of her oldest friends, as a special adviser -- an act she had hoped would be a wake-up call to everyone in the front office. Now, she found out, he wasn't being integrated or even informed of what Kupchak and Jim Buss were planning.

One day, she found out the team had worked out center Larry Sanders and hadn't bothered to invite Johnson to watch. Then there were the trade calls Johnson had to inquire about; he was never informed of the prospects -- let alone asked his opinion.

So much for working together.

Jeanie decided it was time to act. She canceled her trip to New Orleans for the All-Star Game, sending her younger brother Joey to represent the team instead. For the next few days, she worked with a small, trusted group of advisers, lawyers and human resources personnel to execute the bold restructuring of the Lakers front office she would announce the following Tuesday.

The sword finally fell with a 423-word press release posted to the Lakers official website at 10:10 a.m. PT Feb. 21.

It felt like the end of a story that had been written a long time ago.

In 1998, Sports Illustrated published what became something of a time-capsule story on the Buss family, casting Jerry Buss as a modern-day King Lear who created a world of chaos and infighting by carving up his kingdom amongst his children.

Even then, the story predicts that the ending of this play would ultimately come down to whether Jeanie Buss had the courage to seize control of her father's kingdom. The article is literally entitled, "She's Got Balls."

"I'm really, really proud of my sister for putting her business hat on," says younger sister, Janie Buss. "I know how hard it was. My dad's dying wish was to leave the Lakers to all of us, and that we would all get along. He would be sickened if he saw what was going on with my older brothers."

It's fitting, and more than a bit Shakespearean, that the daughter of an infamous playboy would one day rule the most masculine of kingdoms -- a professional sports team infamous for sex, Showtime and star power -- only after dispatching of the male heirs and suitors.

"My vote is behind Jeanie. I've told her that. I've always had her back," Janie says. "There was a reason why my dad chose Jeanie. She's guided the ship the entire time."

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.'"

Johnson had always been something of an adopted member of the Buss family -- Dr. Buss even gave him 5 percent of the team upon his retirement.

"He would not have done that if he didn't want Earvin to be a part of it," Janie says. "My dad always looked at Earvin as another son. He had the utmost respect. He made the Lakers franchise; he made us famous. We couldn't have done it without him."

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."

Johnson was absolutely right. Even with the team's basketball operations in his hands, Jim Buss had a tremendous amount of resentment for Johnson. At the same time that Dr. Buss was telling Johnson he wanted him to run the Lakers along with Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss says his father told him, "I believe you can do it."

Jim Buss did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but in September 2013 he told ESPN, "If he didn't think I was capable of doing this, I guarantee he wouldn't have put me here. He would have arranged something else. My dad trusted me."

Dr. Buss had a close relationship with all of his sons. He and Jim bonded over their love of numbers, opera, partying and collecting rare stamps and coins. In a 2014 interview with ESPN, Jim Buss said he watched nearly every Lakers game with his father while he was in the hospital.

Of course, Buss also had a very close relationship with Johnson. Johnson was just 19 when the Lakers drafted him No. 1 overall in 1979. He was a wide-eyed showman from East Lansing, Michigan, who gravitated toward Dr. Buss as a father figure.

He would drive to Buss' Pickfair mansion on off nights to play pool, Johnson says, or attend the frequent parties. On Saturdays, he'd wake up early to work out, then head over to the Buss house to ride with the family to USC football games.

Between life at home and the Forum, Jeanie Buss and Johnson saw each other nearly every day. They shared the unique bond of learning from, living with and loving Dr. Buss within his hedonistic lifestyle.

"Earvin and I speak the same language," Jeanie Buss says. "Because we were raised by the same man."

AS CLOSE ASJeanie Buss is to Magic, her relationships with her elder brothers have been strained for years. Johnny Buss' notice, on its face, had been to schedule the Lakers annual shareholders meeting -- but also to propose what looked like a classic boardroom takeover. Four names had been submitted for the Lakers' five-person board of directors: Johnny Buss, Jim Buss, Dan Beckerman (the CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, whose chairman, Phil Anschutz, controls two seats on the board) and a property investor named Romie Chaudhari.

Not included: Jeanie Buss, or the team's alternate governor, younger brother Joey Buss. Johnny Buss was proposing two new board members -- Jim Buss and Chaudhari -- to replace Jeanie and Joey.

For Jeanie Buss, this was about more than just a board of directors seat. According to the team's corporate bylaws, the controlling owner must be elected from the board of directors. So if she was not a director, theoretically, she couldn't be re-elected as controlling owner -- even though Dr. Buss' trust clearly named her his successor in that role.

The question hanging over everything now is what Jim and Johnny Buss really want: to be restored to power? To be bought out? Something else entirely?

"This is something huge and it's not going to go away. They're trying to bust the trust so they can sell their [interests]," younger sister Janie Buss says. "And if they sell, that'll leave the rest of us in a minority."

Janie says she thinks that Johnny and Jim each have different motivations but that their endgame is the same: to cash out.

"Growing up, Johnny was the kid who brought the ball to the park and when things didn't go his way, he took the ball and ran," Janie says. "I don't want to call him a poor sport, because a poor sport would be someone who lost a game and kicked the referee. No, Johnny took the ball away so nobody could play.

"Jimmy will bring the ball, but he'll be like, 'Everyone gets to play, but you have to put a dollar in to play. He tries to figure out things mathematically, how to get the best advantage."

Robert Sacks, a lawyer representing Johnny and Jim Buss, contends that Johnny's letter was simply a call for the annual shareholders meeting, which was three months overdue (but which the Lakers have conducted over email, not in person, for years). He pointed to a document signed by both brothers on March 1, voting to re-elect Jeanie as the Lakers controlling owner. However, when pressed on whether they'd support her as a director, Sacks declined to comment.

Jeanie Buss' lawyer, Adam Streisand, says that until the brothers commit to supporting her as both a director and controlling owner, they are in breach of their obligation as co-trustees with a fiduciary responsibility to keep her in that role. Without that commitment, Streisand is continuing with a lawsuit against the elder brothers, which will be heard in L.A. Superior Court beginning May 15.

Beckerman, who serves as Anschutz's representative on the Lakers board, issued a statement to ESPN on Monday indicating he had no knowledge of the brother's intentions.

Said Beckerman, "We fully support Jeanie Buss as the controlling owner of the Lakers. She has demonstrated her commitment to the franchise and we have complete faith and confidence in her continued leadership."

The rationale for including Chaudhari's name as a proposed director was one of the biggest question marks in the proposed boardroom. Chaudhari, who was a part of an American consortium that bought a majority share of the English Premier League club Swansea City last year, issued a statement to ESPN through his lawyer, Adam Bass:

"Mr. Chaudhari and Jim Buss met in connection with a non-basketball business transaction. He never agreed to be included as a candidate for the Lakers board of directors. In addition, Mr. Chaudhari made it very clear that he is not, nor has he ever been, interested in participating in a family dispute."

According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Jim Buss asked Chaudhari if he had an interest in serving on the Lakers board on Feb. 24, the same day Johnny Buss sent the notice to Jeanie Buss. Chaudhari told Jim Buss that he respectfully declined. Chaudhari was then surprised to find out his name had been included as a proposed director in the letter, according to the source, when it became a matter of public record in Jeanie Buss' court filings on March 3. Chaudhari is still engaged in several real estate business deals with Jim Buss, according to the source.

Further complicating matters is the inclusion in the notice of a $30,000 a month incentive to the non-shareholder directors (Chaudhari and Beckerman), $10,000 a month to shareholder board members (Jim and Johnny), and a tidy $25 million one-time disbursement to be split amongst the shareholders.

Janie Buss said she thinks her older brothers are looking to cash out. Together, the six Buss children inherited 66 percent of the Lakers via four trusts established by Dr. Buss and his first wife, JoAnn. According to court documents, the trusts state that four of the six Buss children would have to agree to a sale of their interests in the Lakers. That's further complicated, because a percentage of the Buss family shares are in JoAnn's name and cannot be sold until her death.

"The way the trust is set up, it's last man standing," Janie says. "If I die tomorrow, my kids benefit a little bit but they don't get everything I'm entitled to. As we all go down, it's all going to end up in Joey and Jesse's hands because they're the youngest."

She says she understands why Johnny, age 60 with two young kids, would want to cash out and leave more to his own children. She's had the same thought. But ultimately, she wants to follow her father's wishes because, "I am living life better than I ever thought I could live, and it's all because of my dad's hard work."

EVEN BEFORE this week's machinations, Jeanie and Jim Buss' relationship has never been particularly close. So it was a hopeful sign when, in November 2012, Jim Buss stopped by his sister's office at the Lakers headquarters and asked if she thought her longtime boyfriend, Phil Jackson, would come out of retirement again to coach the team he led to five NBA championships between 2000 and 2010.

That might not seem like a big event. But in the world of this decades-long familial power struggle, it was huge. Jim and Jeanie communicated mostly via text message, so setting foot into his sister's office was an impressive gesture by Jim. So too was the request for her help in a basketball matter.

Jeanie Buss gave her brother Jackson's cell phone number and told him to call Jackson directly, that it would mean more coming from him.

A few days later, Jim Buss and Kupchak came over to Jackson's house in Marina Del Rey to discuss the job. Jackson ended the meeting feeling that the job was his to accept or turn down and that he had a few days to do so.

In Jackson's mind, taking the job would be a favor to his fiancée and her family as the patriarch of the family lay dying. But he needed time to check with his doctor about whether it was acceptable to delay treatment for recently diagnosed prostate cancer by a few months to coach the Lakers.

In the meantime, Buss and Kupchak continued to interview candidates, including Mike D'Antoni by phone.

Then, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, something happened that forever altered the course of the family and their relationships.

At approximately the same time that Jackson decided to agree to take the job -- and told his agent to book a red-eye flight from Chicago to Los Angeles to do the deal Monday morning -- Kupchak and Buss began negotiating a contract with D'Antoni and his agent.

Worse, it was Kupchak -- not either of the Buss men -- who called Jackson a little before midnight to inform him that the Lakers had chosen to hire D'Antoni.

Jackson and Jeanie Buss were stunned. They were also hurt and furious. Jackson's agents issued a scathing statement the following day, deriding the Lakers for how they had disrespected Jackson.

Jeanie was heartbroken. It felt cruel to involve her in this, to ask for her help in bringing Jackson back, then dash those hopes without explanation. Was this was a power play by her brother, meant to injure and silence her? Or just callousness? She couldn't decide which was worse.

There was another, unintended side effect: It also meant that Jeanie would soon have to choose between the Lakers and the man she loved, as Jackson would now have to leave town to find another job.

DESPITE THE FALLOUTover D'Antoni's hire, the Buss siblings seemed to make an effort to work together after their father's death in February 2013. Kupchak and Jim Buss met with Jeanie Buss semi-regularly to keep her informed on their strategic thinking about the basketball operations of the franchise. Jeanie Buss and Jackson tried to help in the effort to retain Dwight Howard as a free agent. The six Buss siblings met every 3-4 months for about a year and a half. Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis even developed a relationship with D'Antoni's wife, Laurel, to help ease the awkwardness.

This spirit of cooperation and togetherness did not last long. When Howard decided to leave for Houston as a free agent, the divides re-emerged.

Kupchak and Jim Buss shook off Howard's departure as addition by subtraction. Yes, they lost a player they had hoped to retain. But now they had more salary-cap space to chase superstars such asLeBron James and Carmelo Anthony the following year. When they presented that plan to Jeanie Buss, though, she was not as enthusiastic.

She asked why they had let Howard leave without getting anything in return -- and what made them think James or Anthony wanted to play for the Lakers. If it was realistic, she said, she was on board. But the plan seemed to be built on the notion that the biggest financial offers and the Lakers mystique would be enough to entice the two superstars. Jeanie Buss didn't hide that she was skeptical, or that she had cringed at some of the negative comments made about Howard after his departure.

During a joint interview with ESPN The Magazine in 2014, Jeanie Buss' lack of faith in her brother and Kupchak was palpable.

ESPN: Where are the Lakers in five years?

Jim: On top.

Jeanie: [Gestures toward Jim] I'm looking to him to make it happen, so I'd like to hear about that.

ESPN: Jeanie, do you believe in Jim's vision?

Jeanie: My dad saw Jimmy's ability to see the game that way. I know what I don't know. I don't see basketball in that way, so I leave that to the experts.

It took weeks to schedule that interview -- including one last-minute rescheduling by Jim Buss that frustrated his sister -- and it is still the only joint interview they ever did. Even the photo they took together that day belies the tension in their relationship. Jim is posed confidently, with his arms crossed. Jeanie's face is passive as she leans her head onto her hand, which rests on Jim's shoulder.

She wasn't leaning in to demonstrate closeness. It was for balance. Her foot was still in a walking boot after surgery.

THE CHILLY RELATIONSHIPonly got worse when Jackson left to become president of the Knicks. Jeanie Buss blamed her brother for forcing her to choose between the Lakers and the man she loved.

Long distance was far more of a strain on Buss and Jackson's relationship than either of them anticipated, particularly because, due to the NBA's policy against conflicts of interest, the couple couldn't discuss anything related to their teams. If they ever decided to marry, the other NBA owners would have to approve it.

Each year that went by, Buss and Jackson grew further apart. Although Buss could've resigned her post as Lakers president to live with and marry Jackson in New York, that was never going to happen. She was far too proud of her career for that, and she always saw the Lakers as a civic treasure for which she was responsible.

The breakup in the fall of 2016 was hard on Buss. It brought back to the surface her resentment toward Jim Buss and served as a reminder of just how much her relationship with her brother and Kupchak had been poisoned by mistrust.

By then, there wasn't just a divide between the Lakers business and basketball hemispheres. There was a wall.

In the two years that Byron Scott was coach of the Lakers, he says, "I never talked to Jeanie. It just felt like it'd be a betrayal of Mitch and Jim."

Although Scott had known Jeanie Buss for decades, as both a player for the Lakers in the 1980s and as a coach, he says, he always got the vibe from Kupchak and Jim Buss that "they would look at that as me not being loyal to them."

"It was just a vibe that I got," he says. "I know they were worried about leaks." It was the only time in his career, he says, in which he had no relationship with a team owner -- not that he had a particularly close relationship with Kupchak or Jim Buss, either, he says.

"I'm not trying to say at all they kept me totally out of the loop," Scott says. Kupchak and Jim Buss would inform him of general plans and ask for feedback on specific players. But he says he never felt like there was a cohesive style or vision for the way the team would play.

"They would inform me of things that they were going to try to do or wanted to do. Like [Mitch] would say, 'I'll let you know if it's going to happen.' [Then] two or three days would go by, and you didn't let me know, so ... I figured it wasn't going to happen."

IT WAS THATlack of connectivity and trust that Jeanie Buss was trying to solve when she brought Johnson on as a special adviser on Feb. 2.

As president of the Lakers, she decided that she could no longer stand by and watch the team fail. She'd never been comfortable making basketball decisions, so she needed someone she trusted to make recommendations and evaluations of what was going on.

From the moment he was hired, Johnson was in the office nearly every day. Kupchak met with him. So did the younger Buss children, Joey and Jesse. Magic started doing corporate events and speaking regularly to head coach Luke Walton.

But he was never invited into the decision-making sanctum, which was picking up in advance of the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Johnson would call Kupchak to ask about trades or strategies that were being considered, but he was always the one reaching out for information. When the Lakers worked out Larry Sanders, a free-agent big man with a history of depression and substance-abuse issues, Johnson wasn't informed or consulted.

Jim Buss had scheduled a meeting with Johnson and Kupchak for the Monday after the All-Star Game, but it seemed that would be the first time Johnson would really get to talk to them about strategy. As far as Jeanie Buss was concerned, it was already too late.

Several teams had already inquired about high-scoring guard Lou Williams and offered draft picks. At least one of those offers (from the Houston Rockets andUtah Jazz) included a first-round pick. Why, Jeanie Buss asked, were the Lakers waiting?

Johnson couldn't get an answer either -- and that was the point of bringing him in.

At one point, he fielded a call from Kings general manager Vlade Divac inquiring about the Lakers' interest in All-Star centerDeMarcus Cousins. Johnson told his former teammate that, as a consultant, he wasn't empowered to answer that kind of question, and he referred Divac to Kupchak.But Johnson never heard another word from the front office, even when the Lakers engaged in discussions with the Kings on Feb. 19.

Divac, who sources say believed he had a very narrow window to trade Cousins before ownership changed its mind, wanted to act quickly and knew he had ownership approval for trades involving the Pelicans' Buddy Hield and the Lakers' Brandon Ingram.

By the time the Lakers got involved, Divac and Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, both in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, had met four or five times in person to discuss a deal, sources told ESPN's Marc Stein. He was negotiating over the phone with Jim Buss and Kupchak -- despite the fact that Johnson was in New Orleans that weekend for ESPN.

Jeanie Buss had previously instructed Kupchak and her brother that she was to be consulted if they discussed trades involving any of the Lakers' three recent lottery picks. The only word she got of the Lakers discussions with the Kings --which involved two of those three lottery picks -- came after Jim Buss called Jesse Buss and pressed him for a recommendation on an offer he said would quickly expire. Jesse Buss tried to text Jeanie Buss, but the deadline was fast approaching. Not long after, before Jeanie Buss or Johnson even knew about the Lakers' attempts, the Kings finalized the deal with the Pelicans.

By then, Jeanie Buss had already decided to fire Kupchak and Jim Buss and replace them with Johnson. The lack of communication on the Cousins trade simply reinforced why.

The long-awaited meeting with Jim Buss, Kupchak and Johnson was rescheduled from Monday to Tuesday morning. It never happened. Jeanie Buss was ready to act.

JOHNSON WAS ATthe gym early Tuesday morning when he got the call. In a funny coincidence, Byron Scott was there too.

They've worked out at the same gym in West Los Angeles for years now. Johnson gets in around 6 or 6:30 a.m.; Scott is there about an hour later.

That morning, Scott remembers Magic leaving rather abruptly.

"My friend Charlie said, 'Where's Magic?' I said, 'I don't know. It looks like he ran out of here.' And then his trainer said he had to leave. You know, kind of quickly," Scott says. "A few hours later, I jumped in my car and heard the news. I was like, 'I guess that's why he had to go.'"

After all this time and all that dysfunction, Johnson wasted no time getting to work. He knows he can't fix this team with a no-look pass or by flashing his charming, bright smile. The Lakers have years of rebuilding to do.

His first day on the job was spent fielding trade calls. Utah's offer of a first-round pick for Williams was off the table by then, so Magic told teams he was looking for a first-round pick and a player whose salary and time left on his contract matched up with Williams'. Johnson told any team that didn't offer a first not to call back until it was ready to do so.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey offered a first and Corey Brewer. Johnson told him he had a deal. The quick trigger was a departure from Kupchak's deliberate negotiating style. Rather than waiting to see if the offers improved in the offseason, by finding a team that would part with a first-round pick and could absorb Williams' salary this year and next without sending back a player under contract beyond next year, Johnson preferred to take what was certain now.

Whether that assertive instinct will serve him well in future remains to be seen. Johnson says it's a dream come true for him to have this role, but it isn't lost on him that it's a huge risk. He has never done this before, and Hall of Fame players don't always translate into Hall of Fame executives.

"Of course you worry," Johnson says. "You worry that you want to make the right choices, the right decisions, but I think that you have to have confidence in yourself and your team that you put together. We have a great brand, a great legacy, and I think a lot of guys will want to play for Luke because he's proven that he can win in the league as well."

Johnson says he's a big believer in white-boarding ideas and strategies with his team. It's something he learned from Dr. Buss.

"When I got into business as a CEO, I brought in the brightest young minds and said, 'Hey, I empower you. If my idea was not the best, just tell me. Break it down. Say, hey, this is not good, and this is why,'" Johnson says.

"When I went to my first Laker meeting, I told them the same thing. I said, 'Look, I just want to get the job done, and if you've got an idea or suggestion, then put it out on the table.'"

ON THIS FRIDAYevening, the fact that Jeanie Buss' leftover sandwich and packets of candy are sitting on Linda Rambis' table -- the same one they played poker on for so many years -- seems fitting. It has been a long week and a long game of poker.

Rambis pulls out a pair of scissors to cut open the packets of Skittles and Sour Patch Kids.

Dr. Buss asked Rambis to mentor his daughter as she worked at the Forum and took classes at USC. They've been friends for nearly four decades. "She just doesn't accept mediocrity," Jeanie Buss says of Rambis. "It's the way it should be."

Despite the jarring news from her older brothers earlier that day, Buss seems to have a strong majority of support with Janie, Joey and Jesse Buss, all of whom made public statements in support of their sister.

"Jeanie's always supported me if there's ever been something I needed to talk about, whether it's with basketball operations or something personal," Jesse Buss says. "I know she always has my back. I'm a loyal person, so I'm forever going to have her back."

"I fully support the direction she's taking the franchise and the decision to bring on Earvin and now [new GM] Rob Pelinka," says Joey Buss. "I support her 100 percent and the decision she had to make to right the operation not only for us, but also all the shareholders and the entire NBA."

With Johnson's and Pelinka's hirings now official, Jeanie Buss knows there are those who wish she would've looked outside the franchise and her circle of trust to remake the Lakers. She has heard from all of them in the past few months. But there were only ever four men who had the stature and level of respect from her to be entrusted with this task: Johnson, Jackson, Jerry West and Kobe Bryant.

West is held in high esteem, but he's currently under contract with the Golden State Warriors.

Jackson became less and less of an option the more settled he became in New York and certainly by the time they announced the end of their relationship in December.

Bryant is too fresh off his playing career and deep into his business pursuits. But it's worth noting that he met with Buss and Rambis in February to give his opinion on the state of the franchise. He also advocated for Pelinka, his former agent, who will take over as the Lakers general manager.

That left Johnson, who was probably Buss' first choice, anyway. He reached out to check on her after the announcement that her engagement to Jackson was off. They planned to have dinner, and the rest happened quickly. When you've been operating without trust for so long, it makes the desire for it even stronger -- and there are few people in the world whom Buss trusts more than Johnson.

It's hard to say whether this was Dr. Jerry Buss' plan all along -- or what he really wanted for the Lakers. But he gave Jeanie Buss the power to make that call, and she has finally pushed all her chips to the middle of the table.

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