Do Jeanie and Jim Buss get along?
Excerpts from Jeanie’s updated memoir, Laker Girl, suggest they don’t. According to excerpts published by The Los Angeles Times, the Lakers president detailed how the front office passing on Phil Jackson in their coaching search last season and choosing Mike D’Antoni to replace the fired Mike Brown negatively affected her emotional well being.
Considering her allegiances to Jackson as a longtime companion, Jeanie also suggested in the memoir that the situation hurt her relationship with her brother Jim, the Lakers’ vice president of player personnel.
But in statements released by the Lakers, both Jeanie and Jim Buss downplayed what those excerpts suggest.
“The words and sentiments in Jeanie’s new book reflect her feelings and frustrations nearly a year ago, and how she felt at that time,” Jim Buss said in a statement. “I understand that Jeanie felt that way, and why she felt that way. Since that time, we have discussed the situation, the circumstances that led to it, and our feelings about it. Both of us feel this has been resolved and have put this behind us.”
“Jim has been great in terms of understanding my feelings about this and in fostering an atmosphere that has led to better communication,” Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “We have regular meetings and talks and are both committed to creating the best working environment possible, as are my sister and brothers as well. We are focused only on what is best for the franchise and in making the Lakers championship contenders.”
The Lakers didn’t make Jim and Jeanie available for further comment. (The Orange County Register also published the Buss statements earlier).
Jeanie has been the team’s executive vice president of business operations for 14 seasons before becoming the team’s president following the passing of the Lakers’ late owner Jerry Buss in February because of an undisclosed form of cancer. Jim has spent eight of his 15 years with the organization as the Lakers’ executive vice president of player personnel. The Lakers have set up a trust that are run by Jeanie, Jim and Johnny Buss. Buss’ other children – Joey, Jesse and Janie Drexel – also have ownership stakes.
But with their father’s passing, uncertainty has increased on how both Jeanie and Jim will work together.
“I want to work closer with you,” Jeanie wrote in the memoir, recalling a conversation Jim said when he inquired about how to contact Jackson. “Our communication needs to be better.”
It appeared the Lakers would hire Jackson, a sentiment plenty of Lakers fans supported with “We Want Phil” chants in the two ensuing home games following Brown’s firing. Despite Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss visiting Jackson at his Playa Del Rey home a day after Brown’s firing, the Lakers chose D’Antoni. Kupchak delivered the news in an infamous midnight phone call the evening before Jackson thought they’d meet again to discuss the coaching position. Jeanie also said media reports suggesting Jackson had demanded a hefty salary and exemption to travel to select road games were untrue. Kupchak also said those reports were inaccurate.
“The sequence of events — Phil almost coming back and then being told someone else was better for the job — practically destroyed me,” Jeanie Buss wrote. “It almost took away my passion for this job and this game. It felt like I had been stabbed in the back. It was a betrayal. I was devastated. I felt that I got played. Why did they have to do that? Why did Jim pull Phil back into the mix if he wasn’t sincere about it?”
“Phil wasn’t looking for the job, and then he wasted 36 hours of his life preparing for it when they were never in a million years going to hire him anyway. How do you do that to your sister? How do you do that to Phil Jackson? I hope the flirtation with Phil wasn’t just a PR stunt. I still can’t get my head around the whole story.”
At a Time Warner Cable Media sponsored event this summer that honored the late Jerry Buss, Jeanie acknowledged feeling “unhappy” on how the Lakers’ front office handled the coaching search. She also admitted remaining “biased” toward Jackson both because of their relationship and because he won five of his 11 NBA championships in two separate stints with the Lakers (1999-2004, 2005-2011). When asked if her relationship with Jim has since improved, Jeanie smiled and said, “It’s something I can always tease him about. That’s what families do.”
The tone in Jeanie’s excerpts don’t appear as playful.
“Despite my brother’s desire to open up the channels of communication between us, we still rarely if ever discuss basketball,” Jeanie wrote. “That should be okay because my dad was confident the franchise could be run that way. But I want my brother to realize that I’m not the enemy.”
With the Lakers releasing statements both from Jim and Jeanie, it appears they’re trying to show they’re willing to extend each other an olive branch.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org