Bryant, Kupchak endorse Buss heirs
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Kobe Bryant and general manager Mitch Kupchak endorsed the children of the late Jerry Buss as worthy heirs to running the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant said Tuesday that the six siblings are “following the greatest owner in sports,” but he believes that in their own way the Buss offspring will have success.
“It’s tough to follow in those shoes,” he said before the Lakers’ first practice since the All-Star break. “It’s important to take the lessons he’s taught and try to carry it on to the future.”
The elder Buss died Monday at age 80 of kidney failure as a complication of the cancer that he had struggled with for the last 18 months. A memorial service for invited guests only will be held Thursday at Nokia Theatre across from Staples Center.
“We have a great opportunity to carry on his legacy,” said Kupchak, who first joined the Lakers as a player in 1981 and became the team’s assistant GM under Jerry West after his playing days ended in 1986.
Some of the lessons Bryant said he learned from Buss were “to be patient, not rush decisions. When you believe in something you act despite what public opinion would be. He always stuck to his guns and made sound decisions on what was right for the team.”
Now those decisions will be made by Buss’ children: the four oldest — Jim, Jeanie, Johnny and Janie Drexel that he had with wife JoAnn — and the two youngest — Jesse and Joey that he had with an ex-girlfriend.
“Everybody seems to work well together, but don’t think for one minute there isn’t an adjustment period,” Kupchak said. “We’ve always had one voice and we’ll see. I don’t anticipate a problem.”
It was Jerry Buss’ wish that his children run the team after his death. The family owns a majority stake in the franchise, with AEG chairman Philip Anschutz, doctor Patrick Soon-Shion and real estate magnate Ed Roski holding minority shares.
The family ownership stake will now be held in a trust. The team cannot be sold off in smaller pieces, only in its two-thirds entirety, according to longtime Buss family spokesman Bob Steiner.
“The entity cannot be split,” Steiner said Monday.
Jeanie will take over as the team’s governor, which gives her the power to voice the Lakers’ vote on issues at owners’ meetings. She has been the team’s alternate governor for several years but now takes over for her late father.
“Nobody understands what this franchise means to the city of Los Angeles better than Jeanie and Jimmy,” said Kupchak, adding that he feels he “grew up” with the four oldest Buss children — who range in age from their late 40s to mid-50s.
In recent years, Jim Buss has been working with Kupchak making the team’s basketball decisions while Jeanie Buss has handled the club’s business dealings. Kupchak said Jim Buss is his boss.
“He’s very strong in his opinions yet if I feel strongly, he’ll defer, which is what his dad did,” Kupchak said.
With the trade deadline looming on Thursday, Kupchak said he doesn’t “anticipate anything dramatic in the next two days.”
He reiterated that there are no plans to trade center Dwight Howard, despite rumors to the contrary.
“He’s been saying that for 1 ½ to two months,” Howard said. “There’s always rumors swirling around. I’m not going to let the stuff that’s been happening defeat me as a person.”
Despite his declining health, Buss watched all the team’s games and he was “very involved” in the decision to fire Mike Brown and hire Mike D’Antoni as coach early in the season.
“The organization has always been first-class and I think it will stay that way,” said D’Antoni, who never met Buss but called him “the best owner ever in any sport.”
Kupchak said Buss’ children follow a routine in their work habits unlike their father.
“You might see him leaving the office at 9 in the morning. His hours were unusual,” he said, smiling. “With the family members, it’s more predictable. Jeanie is in the office every day.”
Jim and Jeanie are most closely tied to the Lakers. Janie handles the team’s youth foundation from afar, while Jesse is learning to be a scout and has what Kupchak calls “a keen eye.” Johnny, who previously ran the WNBA’s Sparks when his father owned that team, hasn’t been that involved with the Lakers. Joey is president of the D-Fenders of the NBA’s D-League.
Bryant recalled visiting Buss in the hospital on a day when the owner was in good spirits. They discussed Bryant’s career, which began when the Lakers acquired him as a 17-year-old, Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” era Lakers, and the rival Boston Celtics.
“That was a good day,” said Bryant, who grew up a Lakers fan and cited Buss as having a “profound” impact on his career.
The Lakers will wear patches with the initials ‘JB’ on their jerseys for the rest of the season. The elder Buss will be honored before the Lakers host the Celtics on Wednesday night.