The basketball world mourned the passing of one of its most cherished and iconic members Monday. Longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, 80 years old, passed away Feb. 18 due to kidney failure after receiving cancer treatment for 18 months, according to ESPN.
The Lakers, however, had the unenviable task of returning their thoughts to business in this time of tragedy.
The first order of business has apparently already been decided. The Buss family stated that they have no intentions of selling the franchise. The family said in a statement, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
It was our father's often stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy.
If some family members wanted to sell the franchise (recently valued at more than $1 billion), they could not act on their own. A majority vote—at least four of six—would be needed from Buss' adult children: Jim, Jeanie, Johnny, Joey, Jesse and Janie Drexel, according to Bresnahan.
But there could be a different ownership change on the horizon. The Anschutz Entertainment Group owns nearly one-third of the Lakers and the Staples Center, and it is up for sale. Fellow minority Lakers owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has expressed past interest in AEG's ownership stake, according to Bresnahan.
As for the Buss family, which owns 66 percent of the franchise, they have been preparing for this period of transition.
Jim has been serving as the team's vice president of player personnel and conducted the coaching search that landed now-former coach Mike Brown in L.A. with the help of his father and general manager Mitch Kupchak (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).
Jeanie has been the executive vice president of business operations for more than a decade (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com). She will reportedly represent the organization at owners' meetings:
Jeanie, Jim and John Buss will be three family members that run the Lakers. Jeanie is the team's governor.— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) February 18, 2013
Lakers spokesman John Black said on Monday, "As far as the operation and running of the team, that will be unchanged" (via Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com).
The dynamics of the "new" owners won't be clear for some time. As Bresnahan noted, Jeanie and Jim were at odds during the team's most recent coaching search. Jim interviewed Jeanie's fiance, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, but ultimately decided on former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.
The two serve on opposite ends of the spectrum: Jeanie handling the business affairs; Jim orchestrating the basketball moves. But it's hard to imagine the business and basketball sides not coming together on occasion.
The remaining siblings have served the franchise outside of the public eye. Johnny is the team's executive vice president of strategic development, and Joey, Jesse and Janie Drexel hold their own positions within the organization.
Jerry was more than an innovator, more than just the team's final decision maker. He was also the bridge bringing Jim and Jeanie together.
McMenamin speculated that the team may look outside the organization for another basketball mind or two to at least offer assistance to Jim and Kupchak. The amount of influence afforded to this outside person could determine the level of the basketball mind that the Lakers could bring in.
Jerry had been grooming his children as his replacements, so the family appears in as good a shape to move forward as could be expected under the circumstances.
But planning for the future and executing in the present are two different things. Jerry left a lasting legacy beyond the sports world, one that's impossible for his children to match.
That's why it remains of the utmost importance for Jim, Jeanie and the rest of the Buss family to honor their father's wishes while carving out their own identities and forming their own legacies.
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