Jeanie Buss still boss of the Lakers, but questions remain in L.A.

ByRamona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst ESPN logo
Sunday, March 5, 2017

These are turbulent times for the Los Angeles Lakers--both on the floor, where they're suffering through a fourth consecutive dismal season, and in the boardroom, where there is now a fight for ownership control within the Buss family.

Here is an FAQ to help understand and put into simple terms what is happening to the franchise that Forbes valued at $3 billion just last month.

Q: The headlines say Jeanie Buss thwarted a takeover attempt by her brothers. What happened?

A: Jim Buss and Johnny Buss, Dr. Jerry Buss' two oldest sons, appear to have tried to use a loophole to remove their sister Jeanie from the Lakers' board of directors and then as the Lakers' controlling owner. It seems they wanted to hastily arrange an election of a new board of directors next week and leave Jeanie off of it. Under the Lakers bylaws, if she isn't a director, she can't be the controlling owner -- aka the boss. When Jeanie found out about the gambit, she had her lawyers get involved. When they couldn't get clear answers via email or over the phone from either her brothers or their lawyers about their intentions for this board meeting, she went to court to stop it from taking place. After this happened, the brothers canceled the meeting and their lawyers told media outlets they had no nefarious plans. Essentially, it appears they were caught, and they retreated -- for now.

Q: Why is Jeanie the boss?

A: In 2006, Dr. Buss put the Lakers ownership in a trust. In plain English above his signature it says that when he dies: "the Trustees shall take whatever actions are reasonably available to them to have Jeanie M. Buss appointed as the Controlling Owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, Inc." Jeanie, Johnny and Jim were made co-trustees, and each of them signed the trust in 2006, meaning they knew Dr. Buss had chosen Jeanie to succeed him seven years before his death. The term "controlling owner" is important. That is what the NBA refers to as the person who makes the final decision for each team. There are all sorts of titles, management structures and partnerships among NBA teams. But at the end of the day, there are only 30 controlling owners. That designation is everything.

Q: Does that mean Jeanie got all the money?

A: No, they all share the team and the profits. Dr. Buss, who passed away in 2013, had six children, and they inherited a total of 66 percent of the Lakers. Sources told ESPN that Dr. Buss went to great lengths to prepay the inheritance taxes on the Lakers, so his children wouldn't be liable upon his death. Rather than inherit a lump sum, each of the six Buss children get checks every year from their share of the team's profits, which the L.A. Times has reported is now about $10 million each.

Q: So because Jeanie is the controlling owner, that's why she was able to fire her brother?

A: Yes -- and keep her other family members' roles limited. Jim and Johnny called the meeting to try to vote Jeanie out just three days after Jeanie fired Jim as the vice president of basketball operations. That is probably not a coincidence.

Q: So what happens now?

A: There is a trial scheduled for May 15 where all these matters could be settled for good. Otherwise, Jim and Johnny could technically still attempt to vote Jeanie out at a later date. There appears to be some wiggle room where that could happen within the trust and the team bylaws, two separate documents. However, Dr. Buss seemed to be pretty clear he wanted Jeanie to be the controlling owner until her death. That probably will overrule everything else.

Q: Is there any chance this could force the sale of the team?

A: Any sort of sale would require the vote of two-thirds of the Buss children, so four of the six. There doesn't appear to be any movement in that direction based on the court documents. It is possible that a settlement could be reached instead of there being a trial. As part of the meeting that Jim and Johnny tried to call to vote for a new board, documents show they also wanted a special payment of $25 million from the Lakers franchise to its various owners. Each Buss child would've received $2.75 million as part of that one-time payout. The elder Buss brothers also proposed paying directors who were not shareholders $30,000 per month -- quite an incentive for board votes, which would presumably be favorable to their interests. While this appears to be about control on its face, there also may be a financial element at play. That could end up being part of a possible resolution.

Related Video