When Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away last year, the entire sports world lost one of the most iconic and popular team owners in history.
The Lakers won 10 of their 16 overall NBA championships with Buss in charge, and his popularity among players was unmatched.
Buss passed away in February 2013 at the age of 80, and the Lakers were left in the hands of his two oldest children, Jim and Jeanie.
Both Jim and Jeanie have known for a long time that they would be entrusted with guiding a Lakers franchise that is worth somewhere around a billion dollars. But they now face some serious questions in what to do next.
Their franchise player, Kobe Bryant, is coming off surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in April. Although the normal recovery time for such a procedure can be up to 9-12 months, Bryant has stated that he’s shooting to be ready for the season opener on Oct. 29.
Bryant will still have to show he can display the same type of explosiveness that has defined his spectacular NBA career. Without a completely healthy Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have serious issues.
Bryant aside, Jim and Jeanie Buss still have to answer to whether they can effectively lead the Lakers organization. And based on comments made by both, that’s not a slam-dunk answer.
Just last month, Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com asked Jim Buss whether he was ready to assume his father’s role. Buss’ answer was quite cryptic.
"I get a sense from people that, 'We don't want to hear about you feeling bad [that your father] is gone and that you miss your connection with him. We need you to lead,'" he said. "I understand that, but I felt that people should basically get the feel that he's still making decisions."
Um, Jim, here’s the thing—your father can’t make decisions from the grave.
The Buss children can rely on the experience and wisdom of father Jerry, but for decisions that need quick action, that’s an answer that simply doesn’t fly.
For her part, Jeanie Buss has also been a bit wishy-washy with her comments and her new role as one of the principal owners.
In an interview with ESPN710LA Radio in July, Jeanie discussed the Lakers’ attempts to try and convince free-agent center/power forward Dwight Howard to re-sign with the team. One of those ways was to erect billboards across LA that read "Stay D12,” referring to Howard’s uniform number.
“When it came time to try to convince Dwight to stay, we lost the best closer in the business in Dr. Buss,” Jeanie Buss said. “Putting up the billboard maybe wasn't the right thing. But we maybe have to learn to do things differently because Dr. Buss isn't here anymore. People said [of the billboards], 'Oh, that's not the Laker way.' Well, the Laker way isn't the same, because Dr. Buss isn't here.”
Jeanie is right, Dr. Buss isn’t here anymore, and there will be a new “Laker way.” But the missteps and lack of better communication between sister and brother cannot continue in the new “Laker way.”
For the Lakers to continue being a successful franchise, Jim and Jeanie Buss will need to find a way to work together without having the benefit of their father to lean on for advice and direction.
Losing a parent is devastating, and Jim and Jeanie clearly had a close relationship with Jerry Buss. But he’s gone now, and there’s an iconic Los Angeles Lakers franchise that needs leadership.
That leadership needs to come from Jim and Jeanie Buss, or the Los Angeles Lakers’ run of dominance will soon look like a distant memory.