Jeanie Buss flashed a smile and cracked a few jokes.
In just an hour, the Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president and co-owner not only assured a mostly pro-Lakers crowd of the team’s future, but also touched upon some more serious topics.
Speaking at a UCLA Institute for Molecular Medicine seminar, Buss addressed issues of management as well as the Lakers past, present and future.
In the beginning, Buss talked about the Lakers finishing the season with the worst record since the team moved to Los Angeles. For Buss, it all stemmed from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s injury that has haunted Lakers fans for more than a year.
Then, in the offseason, the Lakers lost center Dwight Howard in free agency to the Houston Rockets.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to show him how great this team was with the injury to Kobe,” Buss said. “His decision to leave was a disappointment and not something that has ever happened in Lakers history.”
After the Lakers signed Bryant to a controversially large two-year, $48.5 million contract, many fans were concerned about the team’s future flexibility.
Buss made clear that Byrant was worth it for the franchise, drawing back to comparisons to Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who retired abruptly.
“(Bryant) was a great investment for the organization,” Buss said. “To me, he is worth every dime that we’re paying him, and we’re going to have the opportunity to show how much we appreciate everything he’s done.”
The Lakers organization is at first a family business, one that Dr. Jerry Buss bought in 1979 and has built into one of the most successful franchises in professional sports.
After Buss passed away last year, fans were concerned about how his children were going to handle the franchise their father had built, especially with the rumored drama between Jeanie Buss and executive vice president Jim Buss, who handles the basketball operations.
“My dad felt comfortable with what he saw in terms of a basketball vision (in Jim),” Jeanie Buss said. “I don’t think it’s fair to know what that vision is because we haven’t really seen it. The team never got to play together.”
By easily handling all the questions on the uncertainties of the Lakers’ future, including the open coaching position, Buss displayed a charisma that made it hard for people to remain negative.
“She’s super genuine and really concerned about the fans,” said Michael Arensman, a UCLA biology graduate student. “I always heard great things about the Buss family and their business, and now I saw first hand that it’s really that good.”
After she gained the trust of the Lakers fans in the crowd, the conversation moved on to issues that extend beyond basketball.
“I like that she touched on issues of diversity, being a woman in the sports industry,” said UCLA alumna Elaine Reodica. “I learned being a woman in the industry is something that’s doable, and that it shouldn’t stop anyone from pursing a career in it.”
With the news of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, Buss wanted to make clear her position on the matter. She said it’s something that needs to be eliminated, something that the NBA can’t tolerate.
The smile faded off her face and a stern voice showed that the issue extended beyond winning or losing, beyond basketball.