The Lakers Leadership Is Privilege Running Amok

They want everyone to know exactly who is running the show and won’t become victims of LeBron’s player empowerment movement.

As Lakers owner Jeanie Buss oversees one of the most critical and embarrassing moments in Lakers history, the franchise’s major internal warts have risen to the surface for the sports world to see.

The flip side of Hollywood’s glamour has always been ugly greed, envy, racially acquired privilege and the endless struggle for fame and power.  The Lakers are living that in real life.

While Jeanie may have learned the business from her iconic dad Jim — and been involved with sports on some level her entire life — her business decisions and circle of trust is still culturally slanted towards those people that she is most comfortable around.

That’s been problematic for Lakers Nation.

The Lakers early struggles appeared to be a product of Magic Johnson’s poor personnel moves. Once we started peeling back the onion and taking a deeper look into the team’s executive dynamics, we see that the root of the problem lies in the privilege Jeanie’s been afforded on her life’s journey.  

The recent drama surrounding the team — dating back to when Magic abruptly quit as President — only highlights the cultural, social and entrepreneurial dysfunction that has plagued the franchise.

When Magic resigned, the narrative was that he bounced because the job got too challenging. During the presser, he shouldered a lot of the blame out of respect for the franchise. In retrospect, we now understand that Johnson was abandoning a sinking ship and he was deeply hurt by things that were being said about him between Buss and GM Rob Pelinka.

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According to Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, Johnson’s resignation may have stemmed from emails between Buss and Pelinka. Bucher revealed that Johnson may have accidentally been CC’d on emails that were critical of Magic’s performance.

If true, Magic was actually taking the high road by resigning. The two people that he was supposed to rebuild the Lakers franchise with were disparaging him behind his back, rather than working together and being honest with him. Stories of Pelinka undermining Magic in the Lakers offices were rampant as well.

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Magic is one of the profound basketball and business minds in American history. Pelinka is a former sharp-shooting Michigan Wolverine, who became Kobe Bryant‘s agent. He parlayed that into a sweet GM gig with the Lakers, where his relationship with Buss has led to acquiring power that he’s done nothing to earn.

Kobe hasn’t even been brought into the fold as an executive yet, but Pelinka’s been helping to burn it down since 2017. The Lakers seem to enjoy hiring white guys who were second-tier players in their day, to run the team. Pelinka replaced former Lakers backup Mitch Kupchak as GM. Former Lakers role player Kurt Rambis has been promoted to senior adviser and he’s wielding major power right now.

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Born To Rule

So what the hell happened?

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss grew up with a billionaire dad who ruled the West until his death in 2013 as the owner of the Lakers. Under Jim Buss Sr., the Lakers won 10 titles, which included the Showtime Lakers era led by Magic Johnson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and culminated with Kobe’s five rings.  

Jeanie grew up with a silver spoon and all of the privilege afforded to the daughter of an icon. When her parents divorced in 1972, Jeanie went to live with her dad. His various sports franchises allowed Jeanie a rare opportunity to test her executive skills at a very young age.  At age 19, she ventured into the family business as general manager of the Los Angeles Strings professional tennis team. She later became the owner of the Los Angeles Blades before becoming vice president of the Lakers.

Her dad’s death in 2013 coincided with Kobe’s retirement in 2016 and the beginning of the downfall of the franchise. It was Jeanie’s turn to run the family’s most prized possession after winning a power struggle with her brother. Big Jim is probably rolling in his grave after seeing how this past season of Lakers basketball has transpired.

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Trading LeBron James

Last week, the Lakers organization hit a new low when rumors surfaced that Buss was considering trading NBA icon LeBron James on the suggestion of Rambis and his wife Linda, who also happens to be Jeanie’s best friend.

Supposedly, Linda’s been  “the shadow owner” of the Lakers for some time, and the crazy idea to trade Lebron came from The Rambis’.  

The fact that Buss even considered the suggestion is nuts.  When Magic signed LeBron last summer, it was lauded as the power move of the offseason. For a number of reasons beyond Magic’s control, things fell apart and everyone blamed him.

But after gaining some deeper understanding of how the Lakers were being run, it’s understandable why Magic bounced. He didn’t really wield any control. Despite Magic’s entrepreneurial record, they looked at him like an ex-basketball player, unfit to wheel and deal in their world of privilege.

 

Lowballing Lue

The recent Tyronn Lue fiasco is further evidence of the way the Lakers are fumbling business decisions with emotions. LeBron wanted Lue to be the coach. After the turmoil of last season, you’d think LA wanted to do anything it could to keep Bron happy.

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Instead, The Rambis’ convinced Buss to lowball Lue with a three-year deal, instead of the five years that he required based on his track record as an NBA championship coach, his success with LeBron and the huge task that’s still at hand.

The Rambis’ main concern was LeBron gaining too much control over executive decisions within the Lakers organization. The hiring became a power play between the privileged and the face of the franchise.  It cost the Lakers a championship coach that has a relationship with the biggest star in the game.

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Instead, they signed Frank Vogel to be the head coach and Jason Kidd as an assistant. Reports say Kidd is actually the head-coach-in-waiting, but Buss and Co. couldn’t risk making him the top guy right away because of his past domestic issues and drinking.

More gutless maneuvering by LA. LeBron’s got to be wondering what he got himself into.

 

Culture Clash

When it comes to LeBron and Lue, it’s simple. They are examples of African-Americans stars getting too big for their britches in the eyes of the Lakers brain trust. The white power structure in LA — which now reportedly consists of Jeanie Buss, Linda, and Kurt Rambis, Pelinka and Buss’ longtime boo Phil Jackson — has regained control of the franchise.

They want everyone to know exactly who is running the show and won’t become victims of LeBron’s player empowerment movement.

The entire trail of events has a bad optic. It has angered the fans, who expressed themselves in a protest outside Staples Center, calling for drastic changes in the organization.

It raises an eyebrow with people of color that the Lakers would sacrifice sound business decisions and a championship future, just to show who’s boss.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.