The late, great Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss was a titan in the game of basketball and easily one of the finest owners, not just in the NBA, but in sports history. After he passed away in February this year, his often excoriated son, Jim Buss, took over as the final say on basketball matters. In a revealing interview with ESPN, Jim explains his late father’s last important Lakers decision.
A lot of blame has fallen on Jim Buss’s head since his father’s passing coincided with the Lakers’ worst season in half a decade. Some of the blame is fair and some unfair, but when the eldest Buss offspring spoke with the estimable Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, he revealed an everlasting bond with his Old Man. He also explained the reasoning behind Dr. Buss’ last big basketball decision while simultaneously losing a battle with cancer:
“We did the coaching search and interviews and fed him all the information,” [Jim] Buss said. “And he said, ‘This is who I want. [Mike] D’Antoni‘s the man.’ Knowing that in the future we had to rebuild, he felt that Phil [Jackson] was not a guy to rebuild. It’s not fair to him. It was actually more of a respectful thought towards Phil.”
Jim said he and Kupchak had come to the conclusion that Jackson simply wasn’t sure if he wanted to return to the sidelines after their interview with him, and if he was reluctant, so were they. He noted that Kupchak and Jackson also had lunched over the summer and Jackson told Kupchak then that he had no intention of ever coaching again. Still, Buss said they wanted to reach out to gauge Jackson’s interest again after firing Brown because “he’s the best basketball coach of all time.”
When they reported back to Dr. Buss after all of the interviews had concluded (Mike Dunleavy had also interviewed for the job), he assessed the situation quickly and made a decision.
“My dad said, ‘You know what? D’Antoni’s the guy. I’ve always liked him. Showtime. I think it will be fun basketball as we make the transition [from the Kobe Bryant era],’” Jim said.
He said his father also told them to hire D’Antoni quickly.
“He said, ‘Do it by Sunday night,’” Buss said. “He wanted to get it done before the weekend was over.”
After the announcement, Laker-land exploded in anger after the Lakers passed over the NBA’s all-time leader in coaching teams to the title. It was doubly compromising because of Jackson’s romantic relationship with Jim’s younger sister Jeanie Buss, and the respect she engenders around the league. But as you just heard, it was Jim and Jeanie’s late father who was the ultimate arbitrator on the new Lakers coach.