The official title Linda Rambis holds with the Los Angeles Lakers is “Executive Director of Special Projects,” a nebulous position that undersells her level of power within the franchise under team governor Jeanie Buss.
Rambis — Buss’ best friend and someone she’s worked with for decades — has seen her role with the team come under scrutiny over the last several years, with Buss reportedly leaning on her even more in the wake of Magic Johnson’s embarrassing and messy resignation in 2019. Rambis even wielded enough influence that summer to help Rob Pelinka keep his job, according to reports at the time.
Buss has offered nothing but consistent praise for Rambis publicly since then, saying in the midst of that offseason’s turmoil and fan protests that Linda and her husband, Kurt Rambis, were doing a “fantastic job,” and later, after the team won the 2020 NBA championship, Buss essentially chalked up any criticism of Linda’s role from outsiders to people being “uncomfortable with women in power positions.”
But according to a recent report from Bill Oram and Sam Amick of The Athletic, since the Lakers’ slide this season, it hasn’t just been people outside the organization with questions or criticism about Linda’s level of power. The calls are also coming from inside the house (emphasis mine):
As we’ve written before, Kurt’s wife and best friend of Jeanie, Linda, was hired by the late Dr. Jerry Buss to work in the Lakers marketing department in the late 1970s and became partners with Jeanie when they ran the L.A. Strings of the World Team Tennis League together. They made a complementary pair in Dr. Buss’ eyes, both in business style and personality. To this day, with Linda’s far-reaching and ambiguous Lakers role often inspiring confusion and criticism both inside the organization and out, that long-ago endorsement from Dr. Buss still matters a great deal in terms of the unique dynamics here.
And as anyone who has read Jeff Pearlman’s book — “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” — knows, the graf above actually undersells how far back Linda’s ties to the franchise goes. She was there on the night Jeanie’s father, Dr. Jerry Buss, bought the team, and has been around ever since:
One night later, after the approval was official and the documents were being prepared for signing, Jerry Buss could be found inside a rickety one-bedroom apartment on Doheny Street in Los Angeles. He was there visiting his girlfriend, Debbie Zafrani, a gorgeous bunny at the local Playboy Club who was, not surprisingly, about half his age.
“He was just hanging out with us, as he always did,” said Linda Rambis, Debbie’s sister. “For months he’d been telling us, ‘Someday I’m going to own the Lakers. I love that team, and I’m going to be the owner.’ My sister and I are from Chicago—we just thought he was eccentric. We’d watch the Lakers on TV, and he’d go on about owning them, usually while drinking his rum and Coke. Well, this one night he says, ‘I bought the Lakers! I really did! Let’s go out for dinner and celebrate.’ I probably didn’t even believe him. I mean, really, you bought the Lakers? C’mon.”
There was probably no way Linda could have known at the time how significant that event would end up being for her, but it does illustrate the extent of the history at play here. When someone has been around that long, intentionally tied to Jeanie’s hip right at the beginning by the father she reveres so much, through thick and thin, that’s not a bond that’s easily severed. No matter where the criticism or questioning of Linda is coming from, it would probably take a lot more of it for Jeanie to turn on someone who has always been there for her. Linda is not a new member of the team’s “four-pronged brain trust.” She’s been in Los Angeles for decades, right at Jeanie’s side. The only thing that’s new is fans and outsiders hearing about how much power and influence she has.
It’s also probably easy for Jeanie to dismiss any criticism coming from that knowledge entering the public sphere. Think about it. Linda is not just a friend who sits at her side at every Lakers home game; she is someone who has also been right next to Jeanie for 11 championships. So Linda very well may be totally qualified for this level of sway and control, and Jeanie surely would — and has — argued that she is doing great in her role. After all, the number of titles Linda has been around for is more than any franchise in history besides the Celtics. That’s not to say she is solely responsible for all that success by any means, but she was there for it, and so it’s no wonder Jeanie feels strongly about her friend’s resume. She is more than justified in feeling that way, on a human level, and she’s not wrong that a not-insignificant amount of the criticism of her and Linda’s dynamic is tinged by sexism, or at the very least is often coded in sexist language.
That said, there are also very justified questions to be asked about what qualifies Linda for the level of power and influence she reportedly has attained, and the Lakers have never really given any satisfactory public answers to them. As a result, fans are allowed to wonder what exactly she’s responsible for, and what specifically makes her the best person to have that level of influence. Maybe the answers are totally satisfactory, and would please everyone and wash away all the questions and critiques! However, actual Laker employees wondering the same thing, anonymously, on the record to reporters is potentially not a great sign about that being the case. So before getting upset at questioning from outsiders over their constantly and intentionally opaque power structure, maybe the Lakers should make sure everyone in the organization feels like they know who is in charge of what, and why.