Jeanie Buss has had an interesting year, to say the least. Last summer, a small group of Lakers fans organized a protest outside of Staples Center to express their dissatisfaction with the team’s management following an underwhelming season, and a difficult search for a new head coach.
Almost a year later, and Buss’s team is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and they’re set to play postseason basketball for the first time since 2013 — the year Jeanie inherited the title of Lakers governor from her late father Jerry Buss. The Lakers’ recent success can be traced back to June 15, 2019, when the team reached an agreement with the New Orleans Pelicans for All-NBA big man Anthony Davis.
The Lakers attempted to trade for Davis at the 2019 NBA trade deadline, but to no avail. When the time came for Jeanie to make another offer for Davis in the summer of 2019, she said she drew inspiration from a lesson her father taught her when she was younger (via “Daddy Issues” with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson):
“He tried to teach me how to play poker, and I am the worst poker player. I can’t bluff, I’m not a good liar ... My dad was a great poker player, I wish I could play poker, but what he always told me, was ‘what I’m worried about and why I’m teaching you to play poker’ was that his philosophy was that you have to be extremely patient playing poker. You have to wait for the cards, and he said, ‘most people can’t do it, they get anxious and they have to do it fast like they’re trying to create winning out of not having the right cards ... I know you have the patience, but what I don’t know is if you get the cards, and you can make a move, if you will switch gears fast enough, because when you’ve got the cards you’ve got to go all in.’
“And I feel like as hard as it was to trade the young players that we had for Anthony Davis, that was the moment that my dad said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be able to pull this off, if you’re going to have the guts to floor it.’ And that was really hard for me, because we had this great young nucleus of talent that we all were loving and protecting and nurturing, but to get something of really great value, you’ve got to give up something of really great value, and that to me was like the moment where it was like ‘yes, let’s do it, put the pedal to the medal.’”
In the trade for Davis, the Lakers gave up two former No. 2 overall picks in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, a starting-caliber shooting guard in Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, two future first-round picks, and a pick swap in 2023 — even in hindsight, that’s a lot. However, given where they are now — both as a basketball team and an organization — it’s hard to argue that the trade wasn’t worth it.
Jeanie had her slips along the way, for sure, but in the years since she made the equally difficult decision to relieve her brother, Jim Buss, from his duties as the team’s vice president of basketball operations, she’s pushed the Lakers towards championship contention the same way her father did when he was alive. She might not be great at poker, but it turns out she knows how to run a basketball team pretty well.