Jeanie Buss has never made it a secret her desire to run the Lakers as a family business, because that’s how her father operated. Dr. Jerry Buss put Jeanie in charge of business decisions and her brother Jim in charge of the basketball side, setting the template for how Jeanie has approached her stewardship of the Lakers.
In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Jeanie Buss noted that the Hulu docuseries “Legacy” attempts to paint that family image of the Lakers:
I think (the show) kind of helps people understand our process, and what our commitment is to fulfilling (her father, the late Dr. Jerry Buss’) legacy, which was to make the Lakers the best team in the NBA. … It’s a lot of personal stuff, but that’s just kind of how my family operates. And I think this process has been very healing, especially for the things that have happened the last few years with my siblings, and it’s kind of brought us all together.
Since she ousted Jim in 2017 (presumably one of “the things that have happened the last few years with my siblings”), Jeanie Buss has surrounded herself in the Lakers front office with either immediate family members, or people who she regards as family. That started with Magic Johnson, a man who she’s known since they were teenagers, and who she thinks of as a brother. Magic was joined by Rob Pelinka, whose proximity to Kobe Bryant for more than a decade made him a natural extension of the Lakers family. Not only were those two people Buss could trust, but they also had basketball credentials — Magic as a player and general NBA personality, and Pelinka as an agent — that ostensibly qualified them for their positions.
But the working relationship between Magic and Pelinka soured very quickly, and to fill the vacuum of power left by the president of basketball operations, Buss didn’t venture outside her circle. And this time, the basketball bona fides of the people she entrusted with authority were a little more specious.
Kurt Rambis, who rejoined the team as a senior basketball adviser in 2018 after Magic stepped down, had no front office experience prior to that role. He was also a terrible NBA head coach, only experiencing success as an assistant when he was on the same bench as Phil Jackson. Rambis’s most appealing attribute when Buss brought him in was likely his marriage to Linda Rambis, who happens to be one of Jeanie’s closest friends.
Jeanie and Linda have known each other for decades, becoming friends when Dr. Buss dated Linda’s sister Debbie before he even bought the Lakers. In that respect, Linda’s position as “Executive Director of Special Projects” isn’t terribly noteworthy since her role, per Jeanie Buss, is to help players acclimate to Los Angeles after signing. Buss has vehemently denied that Linda Rambis is involved in any sort of basketball decision-making. But Linda is her advisor, and — per longtime NBA insider Marc Stein — she’s also part of the Lakers’ four-pronged brain trust alongside also her husband, Jeanie, and Pelinka.
People in power are allowed to make decisions as they see fit. Just because most of the rest of the NBA employs a different front office structure than the Lakers, that doesn’t mean the Lakers have to follow suit. But being different only works when success follows, and the Lakers haven’t done enough winning in Buss’ tenure.
So Buss runs the most popular franchise in the league, has an unorthodox way of filling positions of power, and has watched her team become something of a laughingstock in recent years. That would seem to invite some criticism, or at least an interrogation of her business practices, yet as Buss told Amick in the above interview, she doesn’t understand why that would happen:
To me, I think we’ve always been an open book. We’ve never really tried to hide anything. Then there became this fascination with the role that Linda and Kurt (Rambis) play. Where did they come from (laughs)? As if they hadn’t been there (all along). Like I was hiding them all these decades or something (still laughing). So I don’t know what led to that, what caused people to be curious.
There’s a disconnect in Buss’ comments. If the Lakers were an open book, then the roles and responsibilities of Linda and Kurt Rambis would be crystal clear. Instead, we hear rumors of “shadow executives”, and people within the organization itself are confused about the level of influence Linda Rambis wields. Of course there would be questions from the general public when employees of the team don’t understand the situation.
Furthermore, if Buss wants the Lakers fan base to be passionate about the team, then curiosity comes with that passion. Kurt and Linda Rambis are two of the highest-ranking individuals in the front office; just as Pelinka receives critiques, so too should other decision-makers.
As long as LeBron James has questions about what exactly the Lakers are doing, it stands to reason that everyone else will. And those queries are naturally going to involve the Rambii while they hold positions of power.