If you didn”t have a chance to on ESPNLA 710, it”s worth the time. (For those of you who prefer to read, Ramona Shelburne has a fine summary of things here.)
Over the course of an hour, Buss comments on a variety of things, from her relationship to brother Jim, the ways in which Phil Jackson serves as an advisor for her (no surprise, given the whole “they”re engaged” thing), and her hope that Kobe Bryant doesn”t rush back from his Achilles injury. But the comments garnering the largest share of headlines dealt with Dwight Howard”s departure.
“When it came time to try to convince Dwight to stay, we lost the best closer in the business in Dr. Buss.” she said.
“Putting up the billboard maybe wasn”t the right thing. But we maybe have to learn to do things differently because Dr. Buss isn”t here anymore. People said [of the billboards], “Oh, that”s not the Laker way.” Well, the Laker way isn”t the same, because Dr. Buss isn”t here.”
I don”t know if Dr. Buss really could have convinced Howard to remain a Laker. While Howard reportedly wasn”t overwhelmed by Jim Buss during the team”s pitch meeting, there were plenty of negatives lined up against the Lakers that even Dr. Buss couldn”t fix, and obviously no way to answer the question definitively*. But Jeanie touches on a larger issue. The “Laker Way,” as it were, was already under pressure thanks to a shifting media and marketing landscape and a CBA designed to neuter the team”s financial strengths. But the culture shift is massive, and equally if not more important. Dr. Buss was an icon and visionary, someone who”s mere presence — even if limited in later years by health questions — leant credibility and confidence. He was the Laker Way.
It”s analogous to what”s happened at Apple since the death of Steve Jobs. Two monumentally successful and influential companies, led by dynamic, ground-breaking men whose names, personalities, and personal gifts became synonymous with the brand. Both dealt with illness, making the end an inevitability rather than a surprise and allowing for preparations to be made. Both companies remain staffed by very bright, capable people dedicated to continued success.** But once Steve Jobs was gone, Apple became a different company. So, too, the Lakers after Dr. Buss. Both are now left to navigate a world in which the challenges for and challengers to their supremacy are shifting, and the bar for success is incredibly high.
One big difference: While Jobs could be seen figuratively as a father figure for Apple as a company, in the case of Dr. Buss, it”s literal. Jim and Jeanie (with the rest of the Buss children) are running a family business handed to them by their dad, trying to live up to the standard he set. It doesn”t get more deeply personal than that.
This isn”t to say the Lakers should now be held to a lower standard, but is a reminder that learning to navigate without Dr. Buss won”t be easy or instant.
*The shadow of Dr. Buss will loom large over Jim, particularly in moments where things go wrong. If Jim does X, Dr. Buss would have done Y. Y, of course, being the right thing.
**Though it seems the distrust many Lakers fans have for Jim Buss is shared by Applephiles regarding Tim Cook.