What does the late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss have to do with LeBron James joining his team in 2018? The query sounds like a trick question, but a new story has come to light that makes it seem as though Dr. Buss was the one to kickstart the Lakers’ eventual pursuit and signing of their now-superstar all the way back in 2010.
The Lakers didn’t have nearly enough cap space then to actually be a serious threat to sign James. But according to Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times, Buss was thinking beyond that:
Buss thought about calling James anyway. Over lunch with his kids, he mentioned the idea, offhandedly.
“It’d be good to know that guy,” his son Joey recalled him saying.
League rules allowed teams to meet with any free agent. Why not meet with James to introduce him to the Lakers’ vision? Why not sow the seeds of a future partnership?
“LeBron was always somebody that he was interested in,” said Buss’ daughter Jeanie, the Lakers co-owner.
Now the Lakers have James, even if it took eight long years and one failed free agency pitch in the middle to sign him.
What this story illustrates is Buss’ rare understanding of the value of getting to know people, and why every free agency meeting or draft interview are valuable, because even if a team can’t get a player right away, you can never know how the relationships and information trading those meetings create can benefit your organization down the road.
This anecdote also serves as a reminder of what the Lakers have missed since Buss passed away, and why he can never truly be replaced, even if it appears the Lakers are finally exiting their rebuild. Buss was a visionary who was able to play the short and long game at the same time in a way few are able to. The value of getting to know James may seem obvious to teams now, but at the time it was pretty rare for teams to even pursue meetings with free agents they knew they couldn’t get.
Buss was thinking big picture, though, and his ability to take a step back from things and figure out what the team should really be focusing on has truly been missed since he passed away, and may never truly be replaced.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.