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Laker Girl: The Rise of Jeanie Buss

Jeanie Buss - Banner
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What’s it like to be CEO of a business which is built on the success of men? Jeanie Buss would know.

She runs one of the most powerful sports franchises in America. How will she turn around the family business that’s been on a losing streak for the past couple of years?  Rebuilding the Lakers is her only job. Hear how she’s doing it one hire at a time.

For nearly four decades, the life of Jeanie Buss has been intertwined with that of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team her father bought and for which she now serves as controlling owner. She has been a witness to the highs and lows of the franchise from the fabulous “Showtime” era to the tumultuous, but successful Kobe and Shaq years to the team’s recent unprecedented playoff drought. Here’s a timeline of her ascendance to Lakers controlling owner.

Jeanie Buss’s father Jerry Buss purchases the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and their home, the Forum in Inglewood. Led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rookie Magic Johnson, the Lakers would go on to win the NBA title at the end of his first season as owner (1979-80) and usher in the Lakers’ successful and glamorous 1980s Showtime era. 

Jeanie Buss LA Strings
Jeanie Buss and the L.A. Strings, a franchise of TeamTennis.

Jerry Buss names his 19-year-old daughter, Jeanie Buss, general manager of his Los Angeles Strings of the TeamTennis league. The team would play at the Forum. Jeanie is also a student at the University of Southern California at the time, studying business.

The Lakers once again win the NBA championship at the end of the 1981-82 season, their second under Buss’ ownership.

Jeanie graduates from USC with a degree in business.

The Lakers reach their third straight NBA Finals. After losing in the Finals the previous two seasons, the Lakers win the NBA championship this year. The win comes over the rival Boston Celtics, the team they had lost the Finals to the previous season.

1988 NBA Finals
A ticket for Game 1 of the 1988 NBA Finals at The Forum

The Lakers win the second of back-to-back championships after beating the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. It is the team’s fifth championship of the decade and their seventh trip to the Finals in the 1980s.

Jeanie becomes owner of the Los Angeles Blades of the Roller Hockey International league. Jeanie would also serve as director of Forum sports and entertainment and eventually president of the Forum during the 1990s. In 1995 she began a role with the Lakers, serving as alternate governor of the team.

Shaq and Kobe
Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers holds the Larry O'Brian trophy as teammate Shaquille O'Neal (L) hold the MVP trophy after winning the NBA Championship against Indiana Pacers 19 June, 2000, after game six of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Jeanie is named executive vice president of the Lakers. She begins dating new head coach Phil Jackson, who would become a long-term boyfriend and eventual fiance, though the engagement would be broken off in 2016.

The Lakers move from the Forum to Staples Center, a new arena in downtown Los Angeles. The team would win the NBA championship at the end of the 1999-2000 season led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and Jackson. It was the team’s first title since 1988 and the first of three straight championships.

The Lakers make their third straight trip to the NBA Finals and win their second consecutive championship by beating the rival Boston Celtics. It is the team’s 16th championship in franchise history and their latest to date.

"Laker Girl" is released, a memoir on the trials and tribulations of Jeanie's career with the Lakers. It would later be updated in 2013.

Jerry Buss dies and his 66 percent ownership stake of the Lakers is passed on in the form of a trust to his six children and managed by the three eldest: Jeanie, Jim and Johnny. Jeanie becomes president of the Lakers, in charge of the team’s business operations. She also becomes governor of the team, representing the Lakers on the NBA’s Board of Governors, and is now the controlling owner of the Lakers though Jim is in charge of basketball operations.

Jeanie Buss: discusses how President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, Coach Luke Walton, and General Manager Rob Pelinka can bring the team to success. 

With the Lakers going from bad to worse on the court, Jeanie fires Jim as vice president of basketball operations. Both Jim and Johnny attempt to push Jeanie off the team’s board of directors and, therefore, depose her as controlling owner, but Jeanie threatens to take them to court for violating the trust and they back down. She forces Johnny to resign as trustee and installs sister Janie in his place. She then begins overhauling the front office, hiring Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations to replace Jim and Rob Pelinka to replace Mitch Kupchak as the team’s new general manager.

The Lakers conclude their fourth straight losing season, though their 26 wins are an improvement after finishing a franchise-worst 17-65 in 2016. The team has missed the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons -- their longest playoff drought in franchise history. The club’s poor record though has won them the second pick in June’s NBA draft.

This story was originally published on June 2, 2017. 

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