Who would have thought this comment from 2017 would be even more relevant today, three years after.
“The message is clear here: Do not underestimate Jeanie Buss,” Adam Streisand, her attorney, told the Los Angeles Times back in 2017.
The comment heralded the end of the ill-famous family feud over the ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss took charge and warded off a takeover attempt from her brother Jim, who lost his executive role in the aftermath.
But Streisand’s words reverberate even louder now that the Lakers have been crowned the champions in the Orlando bubble for the 17th time, tying the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.
The same moment the shot clock came down to zero and the buzzer rang to announce the end of Game 6, Jeanie Buss became the first female controlling owner to lead an NBA organization to a title.
It was not initially what Jerry Buss, the legendary Lakers owner, and her father, envisioned before he died in February 2013. Jerry had involved her in the operations of the Los Angeles Strings, the now-defunct team tennis franchise in World Team Tennis, at the age of 14.
She took over as the general manager five years later, while still studying at USC. After the team collapsed for the second time, she was named as Executive of the Year during her four-year reign as the owner of the L.A. Blades, an inline hockey team.
And before landing on the executive board of the Lakers in 1999, Jeanie served as the president of the Great Western Forum, the Lakers’ former home, for four years.
Yet, when Jerry’s 66% controlling ownership of the Lakers passed on to his six children following his death, it was Jim who got tasked with running basketball operations of the franchise alongside general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Duties on the business side of the organization belonged to Jeanie.
Every fan knows the events that followed, the franchise further slipping into the colorless chasm of irrelevance. A place so unfamiliar for the Lakers.
The Dwight Howard departure. The failed pursuits of NBA superstars. Or the signings of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng.
The irrelevance that lasted until Jeanie took action and shook up the front office hierarchy in 2017 to block her brothers from staging a coup and obtaining the position she holds today.
The arrival of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka she orchestrated — and likewise, the departure of Jim Buss and Kupchak — was a sign of hope and, it turns out, the beginning of the three-year journey that led to the 2020 NBA Finals.
Even if there were bumps on the road, such as Johnson’s sudden resignation and his “backstabbing” accusations he hurled at Pelinka.
But just as with her legal battle with Jim, Jeanie weathered that storm too. Her acumen manifested itself when, after taking some time to assess the situation, she dealt with the Johnson bombshell with grace but decisiveness.
And when she publicly backed Pelinka, the former agent of Kobe Bryant whose knowledge of the intricacy of front office operations in the NBA had often been put to question by basketball aficionados.
Pelinka then installed Frank Vogel as head coach, although only after unsuccessfully pursuits of other targets. Anthony Davis was then paired with LeBron James, creating perhaps the most complete All-Star duo since Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Likely, even New Orleans Pelicans fans have now changed their assessment of that trade, initially deemed a loss for Pelinka and the Lakers.
But each of those decisions, directly or indirectly, can be traced back to Jeanie’s courageous shakedown.
The moment she became the central figure of the Lakers, the organization began restoring its vitality. Its razzle-dazzle. Its demeanor, grey and depressing, regained its familiar purple and gold glow lost sometime earlier this dreadful decade.
As if one found the right puzzle, a breakthrough, that led to solving the riddle. Buss was the puzzle because she understands the franchise and what it stands for. The significance of its legends and the importance of unity and hard work as key to success.
It was not an easy journey, as she reminded the public with her Twitter post.
How it started. How it’s going. pic.twitter.com/D5thlzLhPp
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) October 12, 2020
But it led to bringing the trophy “to Los Angeles, where it belongs,” as she proclaimed during the Sunday ceremony.
It happened in such unprecedented circumstances: after the tragic death of Kobe and Gianna.
And amid the turmoil that engulfed America and the world, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, social injustice, misogyny, and countless other pathologies.
It makes the championship taste special. But even more so with Jeanie at the helm, as the first female controlling owner in NBA history.
And who is to say the journey is over?
The message could not be clearer. Do not underestimate Jeanie Buss.
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