In the 2021-22 NBA team evaluations over at Forbes, the Los Angeles Lakers dropped to the third-most-valuable franchise in the NBA. Valued at $5.5 billion, the team fell just behind the Golden State Warriors ($5.6 billion) and continue to trail the immortal brand value of the New York Knicks ($5.8 million).
The perpetually inept team from the country’s biggest media market is ongoing proof that the Lakers could keep printing money even if they continue to languish in embarassment and failure, but the article is also a reminder of how much money the members of the Buss Family Trust could make if they sold the team.
Now, the family is wealthy by any normal standard, but their cash reserves sit far behind their NBA ownership peers (Jeanie Buss is reportedly worth $500 million, which would rank in the bottom five of NBA governors, only ahead of only the Suns, Celtics, Thunder and Spurs’ leaders). When you combine that with the team continually cutting costs, apparently being cash-poor enough to ask for a PPP loan meant for small businesses during a title season, and the mounting criticism of Buss and the people she chooses to empower, some may have wondered if despite her longstanding commitment to the organization, if it wouldn’t just be easier (and potentially far more lucrative) for Buss to sell and be done with all the critiques.
Well, in comments that won’t surprise anyone who has listened to any interview the 60-year-old governor has ever given about the Lakers and how she views the team, she told Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times in a recent sit-down that she has no plans to sell.
“In terms of selling the team, I’m not going anywhere. This is exactly what my dad asked me to do,” she said, adding, “The team is not for sale.”
She said it’s about far more than an investment, it’s about a journey laid out by Jerry Buss when he handed her the keys.
The path had gotten tough, but Jeanie Buss insists — and history has proved — that she can be tougher.
“This was something that was important to him, that he wanted me to keep the Lakers in the family,” she said. “I like to say, my dad had his children, but the Lakers were his baby, and he put me in charge of the baby, and I will make sure that the baby thrives.”
At some point, the baby will have to start thriving, but putting that aside for now, it’s worth a reminder that even if Jeanie Buss — or any of her siblings — wanted to sell the team, it’s not quite that simple. Her father made sure of that (from 2013, via Mike Bresnahan, then of The Los Angeles Times).
The ownership stake held by the Buss family 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.
So what would it take to sell? Bresnahan outlined that as well:
Even if some Buss family members wanted to sell, there would be factors limiting that possibility. A majority vote (four of six) would be needed among Buss’ adult children — Jim, Jeanie, Johnny, Joey, Jesse, and Janie Drexel. Buss’ ex-wife, JoAnn, also owns an undisclosed share of the team that is part of the family stake, but she does not get a vote.
It’s fair to guess that Jim might be willing to sell, given that Jeanie fired him and then he failed in his 2017 coup attempt and was forced to resign as a trustee, but given that Jeanie (CEO), Jesse (assistant GM and director of scouting), Joey (vice president of research and analytics) are all employed by the team, and Janie has said in the past that she doesn’t want to sell out of respect for her father Jerry’s wish that the team remain a family business, it’s hard to see a sale realistically happening anytime soon (via ESPN, from 2017):
According to court documents, the trusts state that four of the six Buss children would have to agree to a sale of their interests in the Lakers. That’s further complicated, because a percentage of the Buss family shares are in JoAnn’s name and cannot be sold until her death.
“The way the trust is set up, it’s last man standing,” Janie says. “If I die tomorrow, my kids benefit a little bit but they don’t get everything I’m entitled to. As we all go down, it’s all going to end up in Joey and Jesse’s hands because they’re the youngest.”
She says she understands why Johnny, age 60 with two young kids, would want to cash out and leave more to his own children. She’s had the same thought. But ultimately, she wants to follow her father’s wishes because, “I am living life better than I ever thought I could live, and it’s all because of my dad’s hard work.”
It is worth noting, in the wake of that excerpt, that JoAnn Buss passed in 2019 at age 86. But in short, the Buss family selling their 66% majority ownership stake would be an extremely complicated process that does not seem particularly likely, and comes down to a lot more than “does Jeanie want to sell the team.”
So for those of you hoping a true billionaire would come along and run the Lakers like a toy, where money is no object and winning is all that matters, you may be waiting quite a while. The Buss family, for better and worse, is very much here to stay.