1-on-1 with Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss: Relationship with Kobe, Proudest Moments, More
- Lakers president Jeanie Buss discusses the Pau Gasol trade, her relationship with Kobe Bryant and more in an exclusive interview with Rob Perez.
The Lakers are 0-1, back in their sterling, brand new El Segundo practice facility getting ready for their regular season home opener vs. the Houston Rockets.
There is anxiousness in the air, not necessarily because of the loss, but more because of the anticipation and pressure of the franchise returning to the spotlight with the acquisition of LeBron James.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been five years now since the NBA’s most popular team participated in playoff game. And even when the Lakers did, they got embarrassingly swept in the first round.
But that doesn’t deter the Lakers. In fact, President Jeanie Buss tells me it acts as motivation.
In an exclusive 1-on-1 with the Lakers’ front-office leader, Ms. Buss takes me down memory lane and speaks at length about the current team, Showtime, and everything in between that has contributed to making the franchise one of the most illustrious in all of sports.
WOB: What’s the one Lakers-related thing you wish you could go back in time and change?
JB: I hate to see any player get traded, so I guess I would talk about when Shaq left in 2004 — he was a player who was grandfathered through a remaining collective bargaining agreement, and was grandfathered in so he could make more money than pretty much every other player in the league, and he wanted to, so it was really a financial decision that he was traded. But I never like to see players leave, so the day he got traded was the first day I started to build a bridge back to him. When he was going to go into the Hall of Fame, he wanted to make sure he went in as a Laker.
WOB: What’s the one Lakers loss that still bothers you to this day?
JB: 2004, losing in the Finals to Detroit. You know, the idea that Karl Malone and Gary Payton came to the Lakers to give us that extra push to win another championship … we had home court advantage, and we lost. Then we had to go to Detroit for the next three. That meant the team was in Detroit for eight or nine days. When you’re in one city for eight or nine days playing games, nothing good can happen because you’re kind of bored and you’re away from home. And not to diminish anything that the Pistons did because they earned it and deserved it, but we really just let it slip away.
WOB: How important was the Pau Gasol trade for the Lakers? Would you consider it the turning point during the late 2000s championship run?
JB: I don’t think Memphis did anything trying to sabotage their future, I think that was the best decision for them and what they were doing for their salary cap. Marc was our property [we owned his draft rights while he was playing in Spain], and you know, he’s not such a bad player himself. Dr. Buss was a winner, and made the moves to make sure we were winning. That, really, was a turning point to set us up to win the two championships.
WOB: What game in Lakers history makes you the most proudest?
JB: I point to, I even wear the ring from it, from the 2000 championship. It was a pivotal time in Laker history. It was Phil Jackson’s first year, and it was the first year at STAPLES Center. We had so many of our fans who were worried about leaving The Forum. We played at The Forum for 42 years. There was a mystique in that building. There was concern that if we left The Forum, it wouldn’t translate to this new arena. By winning a championship, it silenced ALL of that. That, to me, was something that made me feel that everything is going to be OK.
WOB: Speaking of The Forum, The Forum Club was arguably the hottest nightlife spot in all of Los Angeles when the Lakers had a home game. That obviously all went away when the team moved arenas. What’s the story of The Chairman’s Room inside STAPLES Center? How was that able to carry on the legacy?
JB: They asked me, what’s the room you wish you had that you don’t have The Forum? I said we need a place for Jack Nicholson to go at halftime. That’s where the idea of The Chairman’s Room, the room at STAPLES Center that’s on the event level — it’s for our floor-seat holders, that room has taken the [things] that were great about The Forum Club.
WOB: Does cell phone service just magically disappear in here?
JB: [laughter] No photos!
WOB: Before I forget to ask, are there actually secret tunnels inside STAPLES Center?
JB: I know all of the shortcuts, let’s put it that way. It’s important when you have a big game or a big moment, and you need to duck out … I can lead you there.
WOB: What did it mean when Kobe referred to you as ‘The Mother of Dragons’?
JB: Kobe is somebody who I met when he was 17. I was so impressed with him and his maturity. I’ve watched him grow up through all those years. He is one of the most strategic, thoughtful people I’ve ever dealt with.
When I was struggling with some decisions I had to make that I wasn’t comfortable with, he’s been an ear and a shoulder that I can bounce things off of. The friendship we have is — [let’s just say] he’s got a special place in my heart. I know he’s always there for me as I will always be there for him. With anything. I’m lucky he’s a lifetime Laker.