When Jeanie Buss hired Magic Johnson to take over basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, she entrusted him to make all basketball decisions. One of the first major ones he had to make was who to take with the team’s first-round draft pick that summer, second overall.
The team ultimately chose point guard Lonzo Ball. Buss has always been very honest about allowing Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka the power to make whatever they believe are the best decisions for the team.
If one person is to be believed, however, she may have had a say in that first huge decision. According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, it was Buss who pushed for the Lakers to draft Ball:
“First of all, let me be very, very clear. What I’m about to say, Magic Johnson would categorically probably deny. That’s my friend, my brother. I love him. If Magic Johnson was sitting next to me on national television and he said opposite or contrary to what I’m about to tell you, I’d look him dead in his face and say, ‘That’s a damn lie, and you know it.’ Magic Johnson would not have drafted Lonzo Ball if were not for Jeanie Buss. He can say anything he wants. Magic Johnson would not have drafted Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 overall pick if it were not for Jeanie Buss.”
Smith would go on to explain that he believes Buss was looking for a box office draw and Lonzo represented that:
“Jeanie Buss obviously is the matriarch of the Los Angeles Lakers. She is the wonderful daughter of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss. She is an extraordinary woman who does a great, great job stewarding the Lakers franchise. … Here’s the other side to all of that. Jeanie Buss needed a box-office draw. LaVar Ball, the marketing wizard that he is, put his son in our minds’ eye, had us thinking this brother out of Chino Hills, starring for UCLA, is going to be special in the pros.”
It is still very early in Ball’s career to judge whether he was the right selection or not. But with the likes of Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox and Donovan Mitchell being drafted behind him, and even his own teammate Kyle Kuzma showing flashes of greatness, the pressure is on for him to perform.
Whether or not Buss pushed Magic to draft Lonzo is unknown aside from those inside the building. Jeanie has always said that she trusts her basketball people to make those decisions so if this were to be the case, it would be a departure from what she has always preached.
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