Pick a date from the Lakers’ 2009-10 season. There’s a good possibility that the dating life of Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss has been documented, now for public consumption.
Jeanie, who runs the business side of the Lakers and happens to be the owner’s daughter, seems to have given up on ever having someone of importance pop her the question. That’s evident by what she writes in her new book, “Laker Girl” (with Steve Springer, $24.95, Triumph Books, 278 pages).
Phil, who on-again, off-again runs the courtship side of the Lakers, questions whether the players are listening to him anymore, but seems to enjoy the ride on his high-built chair. That’s evident from what he contributes to a new book, “Journey To The Ring” (with Andy Bernstein, $35, Time Capsule Press LLC, 216 pages).
Jeanie uses many words – good verbs, strong adjectives – and few color photos in a standard-sized book to deliver her diary-form account of the Lakers’ run to their 16th franchise championship. She’s very diligent about talking about when Phil comes home grumpy after a loss, when he calls just to release frustration, when he goes into the kitchen to cook and relieve stress, and how they end up watching “48 Hours Mystery” together. She also frequently tells him point blank that he can’t say or do certain things – even if he thinks it’s humorous. Sometimes, he appears to listen.
Phil is like most men in this scenario — very visual, leaning on the larger-scale, coffee-table-sized format to accompany the photographic brilliance of Bernstein, the Senior Director of NBA Photos. Phil expresses himself through extended captions, how things went down from his perspective. He says just enough to get his point across. No wasting sentences. Period.
He wrote, she wrote.
You can read between the lines as the two quests of a ring intersect at seminal moments, often with two different definitions of what rings they are most focused on pursuing.
Oct. 27, 2009: Opening day, handing out the championship rings:
Phil, explaining a photo of him holding hands with Jeanie at midcourt before the game, but not making eye contact: “After the warm-ups, there is a five-minute break for the ring ceremony before the season opener against the Clippers. Usually, the commissioner, David Stern, gives a short congratulatory talk and then announces the players receiving rings. Jeanie Buss, representing the Lakers, hands out the rings – she loves doing this public appearance . . . I think I should have kissed her!”
Jeanie, on the day after, explaining how she was looking at the photographs taken of the ceremony: “One looked like a wedding picture. My wedding. The ring I’m presenting to Phil in the picture is, of course, the championship ring. But to me it appears that we are getting married. NBA commissioner David Stern is in the background between us as if he is officiating the ceremony, and the championship trophy looms above us like an altar. I posted the shot on my Twitter account as our fake wedding photo since there won’t be a real one with Phil. A championship ring is not a bad second prize.”
Our takeaway: Jeanie was married once before, and it didn’t turn out so great. Phil was married once before, and had four children. He had the starter wife. She didn’t have much of a starter husband. She deserves another shot.
Nov. 8, 2009: Lamar Odom gets married:
Phil: “Lamar has a very busy summer. He had a whirlwind romance and ended up marrying Khloe Kardashian the weekend before training camp. Then LO has to jump right into action when the season starts as Pau is on the sidelines because of a hamstring injury.”
Jeanie: “I wanted to go (to the Odom-Kardashian nuptials) because I love weddings. Phil, however, I wasn’t so sure about . . . To my surprise, Phil said we had to go to this wedding. Lamar is so important to him that Phil wanted to support him in every way possible . . . When the music (at the reception) started, Phil was ready to leave. ‘Come on, can’t we stay and dance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to go.’ So I didn’t get a chance to go for the bouquet. We again ran in to the paparazzi when we got outside. They were yelling at Phil, ‘When are you going to marry Jeanie? When are you going to marry Jeanie?’ . . . Phil didn’t think it was funny. He was actually kind of speechless. So I answered for him: ‘Look, I got over it. You people need to get over it, too. He is never going to marry me.'”
Our takeaway: She’s not over it. But the more she can talk about it loudly in public, it could back Phil into a corner. Good strategy.
Nov. 26, 2009: Thanksgiving:
Phil, under a photo of him carving a turkey at his place in Playa Del Rey: “Ah yes, its turkey time – one of my favorite times of year. I collaborate with my daughter, Brooke, and her family to make the Thanksgiving dinner. Brooke is a terrific cook, and she is doing all the vegetables and assorted things that make dinner great. I’ve been charged with doing the turkey and then carving it up – the easy part. We have so much to be grateful for and just a couple of hours before this shot I told my players that I was thankful for them, just before we had one of our lighter practices: The Turkey Trot.”
Jeanie: ” ‘Why do you make the players practice on Thanksgiving?’ I asked him. ‘It seems like you should have made them practice yesterday (an off day) and then given them today off.’ ‘Because,’ he said, ‘most of the guys are not from Los Angeles, so they are away from home. Even if they are married and their wives are here, they are still not ‘home.’ So it’s really important for them to think of the team as their family. This being a family holiday, I want to bring them together.’ Phil traditionally forms two teams – one with the big guys and one with the smaller players – and has a Thanksgiving scrimmage . . . It was a pretty lively game. . . . Before I met Phil, I was always with the rest of the Buss family at Thanksgiving. We went to Las Vegas five years in a row before Phil came into my life. … This Thanksgiving, my family went to Disneyland and ate in a private restaurant named Club 33. . . . My dad know show to make things fun.”
Our takeaway: She admits she’s given up her family Thanksgiving tradition to start one with Phil, who brings his family into the picture. It’s not Club 33, but she seems to be having fun with Phil’s brood.
Jan., 25, 2010: The visit to the White House:
Phil: “The visit to the White House was a major moment of our road trip. The players all look very attentive posing with President Obama. Pau’s hair even looks coiffed. On the right, Magic (Johnson), Mitch Kupchak and Jeanie Buss stood in with the team. We were given spots to occupy from the smalls to the bigs. Which is why I’ve been placed in left field instead of standing net to Jeanie, although Adam Morrison is a great guy.”
Jeanie: “We were lined up by height, so although Phil wanted to be next to me, we were separated. I wound up on the end, which was fine with me. … When President Obama got to me, I introduced myself. . . He replied, ‘I know who you are.’ I thought I was going to die.”
Our takeaway: Jeanie could easily fall for another guy if he just admits that he knows who she is.
Feb. 20: A spot to pose for a picture:
Phil: “This picture was taken in Jeanie’s office with the trophies in the background . . . One thing, the pile on the desk is not how my desk looks. I keep mine cleared off.”
Jeanie: “I’m being pulled in three directions. I picked up Princess Cujo (her dog) at the hospital . . . I went to tonight’s premiere in Westwood for the HBO documentary (on Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). Phil went to dinner with some friends and wanted me to skip the premiere and go with them. I graciously declined, feeling my place was at the premiere supporting Magic and representing the Lakers organization. Phil pouts a bit when I don’t choose him first. . . Time and time again, I think I’ve proved that my job is my priority.”
Our takeaway: Jeanie hides behind her work, to stay busy, and keep her mind off personal things. The more clutter on the desk, the more work there is to do.
April 18: The playoffs begin against Oklahoma City:
Phil: “Before this round of the playoffs, I was fined by the league for allegedly putting ‘spin’ on some issues regarding Kevin Durant’s number of foul shots – he shot the most in the league and also led the league in scoring. Here, I’m trying to downplay the issue.”
Jeanie: “Another day, another $35,000. For the second time in 10 days, Phil was fined that amount for remarks about the officiating. ‘I don’t know why Phil says the things he says,’ I told (NBA commissioner) David (Stern). ‘I can’t control him. I can’t make him stop.'”
Our takeaway: Jeanie is frustrated that she can’t change Phil. No matter how much money he has to give away to the NBA for his aside commentary. That’s $70,000 thrown away — which could pay for a nice engagement ring.
May 27: Game 5 against Phoenix:
Phil: “The team’s reaction to an unbelievable ending to this 103-101 game tells you just how the players feel about their win and their teammate (Ron Artest). We had a good laugh in the locker room after this game … a laugh of relief.”
Jeanie: “I had to watch the game from home because I was sick. I felt ill last night after Phil grilled steaks on the barbeque for dinner . . . It was important for him to know (I wasn’t going to the game) as soon as possible because he has to leave a little earlier from our house if he’s alone and can’t use the carpool lane.”
Our takeaway: Jeanie isn’t happy just being a carpool buddy.
June 17: Game 7 against the Boston Celtics:
Phil, who after Game 6 wrote on the dry board: “1 to (picture of a ring)”: “During the playoffs I write the number of wins left for the championship, a countdown to the ring. This game would allow us to get that coveted title back and win the ring again.”
Jeanie: “Phil was in a great mood driving to Staples Center. We were having a good time . . . Upon arriving at the arena, we always part at the door to the locker room. We kiss and then Phil walks in. Tonight, he just turned to walk away. ‘You are not going to kiss me?’ I said. I think he felt funny because there were so many more people around than usual. But he walked back and gave me the kiss. ‘You are going to stay and be here for me afterward, aren’t you?’ he asked. ‘Absolutely,’ I replied. ‘I’ll be here no matter what happens.’
Phil, after the game: “The confetti rains on Lamar as he exults in the Lakers’ reign. We are so proud of this team’s perseverance during the playoffs. . . . My turn at the podium after the seventh game, and here I am thanking the Lakers fans for their heartfelt support. The walk from the court to the locker room is filled with well-wishers. I’m usually one to acknowledge the fans with only a wave or a smile, but here I’m giving somebody a high-five.”
Our takeaway: Phil would gladly high-five a stranger in the stands than give Jeanie a good-luck kiss?
June 21: The victory parade:
Phil: “The parade of champions . . . There was a crowd of more than 50,000 fans who celebrated with the players as they went through downtown Los Angeles. A lot of these fans don’t get a chance to get into the games, and it’s a great way to celebrate the victory with them.”
Jeanie: “For the championship parade, I rode on the truck with the players because Phil asked me to represent him. Phil doesn’t do parades. He doesn’t like crowds. Even if he had not had medical appointments today, he wouldn’t have been there. I, on the other hand, love the parade . . . It doesn’t get old and you never know if you’ll have another one . . .”
Our takeaway: From what Phil wrote, you’d think he was there. From what Jeanie wrote, you’d think she’d like a parade every year. Boyfriends get old. Parades, and weddings, don’t.
On page 212, Phil says in the acknowledgements: “Of course, my thanks to Jeanie Buss, my sweetheart, who talked me into the Second Coming with the Lakers.”
On page 274, Jeanie concludes: “I know Phil and I are never going to be married. I don’t think I’ll ever be married again. Phil is planning to leave the Lakers at the end of next season and that means he will probably leave me as well. I know I cannot move to his retirement home in Montana, nor do I see him staying in a big city like Los Angeles. . . It’s been a good live, and I do not regret a minute of it.”
Our final takeaway: Jeanie says she’s 48, married to her job, carried away with her dreams. Phil is 65, varied in his interests, buried in retirement paperwork. A computer geek at eHarmony could see the harm of this dynamic. Heck, let’s go get some frozen yogurt and win another title for old times.
There’s no Hollywood ending in sight. And if we were to judge a book by its cover, we’d already be questioning just how honest Jeanie has been with us along this journey. Why?
Well, for starters, on the cover of Jeanie’s book, that isn’t Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol standing there in the backround. Andy Bernstein took that cover shot, but Jeanie thanks “Rodney Webb and Ray Reese for serving as the cover models.”
And, yes, Andy Bernstein took that cover shot as well. You’d think he’s be pushing for a long-term relationship, considering how much he stands to make as the couple’s official wedding photographer.