The Los Angeles Lakers are a storied franchise. They have won 17 NBA championships, tied with the Boston Celtics for the most in NBA history. Their list of stars includes timeless icons like Karem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, now, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
In October, the Lakers captured their seventeenth NBA championship against the Miami Heat during the NBA Bubble resumed season. Everyone looks to give one individual the praise.
It may seem easy to credit LeBron because he won Finals MVP for a fourth time in his career. It could also be easy to credit Anthony Davis for putting them over the hump due to his stellar offensive and defensive play during this postseason.
Outside of the players, people think of Frank Vogel for implementing a good coaching scheme or GM Rob Pelinka for constructing the great roster. Unfortunately, people do not give enough credit to owner Jeanie Buss and the contributions she has made to this franchise.
Jeanie Buss is the daughter of the late great owner Dr. Jerry Buss, arguably the best owner in NBA history, evidenced by his ten NBA championships as the owner of the Lakers. He died from cancer in 2013, leaving room for Jeanie to take on a bigger role with the team.
Jeanie Buss has had an interesting history. She won a legal battle against her brother, Jim, in 2017 to run the team, becoming the first female majority owner of an NBA team. She then fired her brother as president of basketball operations.
Additionally, she had a complex relationship with Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson. The two began to date in 1999, after Jackson became the Lakers coach and Buss became executive vice president for the team that same year. They dated smoothly until 2013 when Jeanie got a bigger role with the Lakers and Jackson had to move to New York as president of basketball operations with the Knicks.
They got engaged, but broke off the engagement because Jackson saw the complexity of their jobs and the secrecy preventing them from having an honest relationship.
During the season, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant shocked the NBA world. Bryant is arguably one of the greatest players ever and his impact was so big for the Lakers organization, where he won MVP and five championships. Buss was close with Bryant and it devastated her. Buss was inspired by Bryant and the will he brought to make sure this franchise won games.
She told Sports Illustrated writers how the Lakers team was always behind Bryant “100 percent” and he never doubted them for their support. Therefore, she and LeBron James voiced the importance of honoring his memory.
Due to all these events, she has been under a lot of pressure to deliver. The cross-town rivals Los Angeles Clippers had been more successful the last six years, making the playoffs in five of those years compared to the Lakers making the playoffs once from 2013 to 2019. The Lakers’ only playoff appearance in those six years was in 2013, so the pressure was mounting for a return to championship glory.
Buss helped make major changes to the Lakers along with GM Rob Pelinka. She signed off on getting LeBron James to the Lakers in 2019 and that gave them a marketable piece for trade pieces that next season.
Even though the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs in 2019, James remained confident in Buss, allowing her to make the decisions to propel the Lakers to the top. James studied the success of the Lakers and voiced his opinions to Buss. Buss used her power to make some interesting moves that next summer.
It started with firing coach Luke Walton and getting Frank Vogel. Walton was not successful in his tenure with the Lakers despite having a lot of success with Golden State. This decision was met with much criticism because Vogel was not successful in Orlando.
Internal changes in the organization continued when President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson was fired as well even though he did help get LeBron to Los Angeles. However, it was not just getting rid of management that seemed questionable. Buss made a lot of notable moves in the summer of 2019 as well with the players that made people scratch their heads about the Lakers being a championship contender.
She got rid of almost all the good young assets such as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to trade for NBA superstar Anthony Davis and role player Danny Green. People questioned her decisions as she took away a lot of promising, young players that were heading in a better direction. Ingram averaged 18.3 points a game in his last year with the Lakers and people doubted the move to give up such a promising talent.
However, LeBron and Anthony Davis were both first team all-NBA and had top 10 player efficiency ratings. Anthony Davis was also first team all-defense and the Lakers ended the year with a top five rated defense in the NBA. The two powered the team throughout the entire regular season as the Lakers dominated the Western Conference.
This success continued into the playoffs. They beat the Portland Trailblazers in five games in the first round. ESPN’s Jay Williams and TNT’s Charles Barkley believed Portland was going to beat the Lakers, but the Lakers prevailed.
The second round consisted of the small-ball Houston Rockets. The Rockets started no one taller than 6’7’’ to open up space for driving lanes and shooting threes. People thought the size of the Lakers with 6’10’’ Anthony Davis, 6’11 Dwight Howard and 7’1’’ Javale McGee would be exposed and caused an early exit in the postseason.
However, Markief Morris became the difference maker. Jeanie helped orchestrate the deal to get Markieff to the Lakers before the temporary shutdown happened due to Covid-19. Markieff did not see a lot of time against the Trailblazers, but the Rockets small size meant more minutes for the 6’9’’ power forward. In the end, he was the answer as the Lakers won four straight games after losing Game 1 to take the series in five games again.
In the Western Conference finals, the Lakers went on to beat the pesky Denver Nuggets in five games once again. Their success came by putting Anthony Davis on star big man Nikola Jokic and trusting their role players like Alex Caruso, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to step up and make big plays. The Lakers went on to win the NBA Finals in six games against the Heat and were back in that championship form that this organization had been missing for a long time.
Buss made moves and people saw a giant transformation in the makeup in the Los Angeles Lakers, but it paid off. From keeping faith in players like Caldwell-Pope and Caruso to getting a pivotal playoff piece in Markieff Morris to deal with smaller lineups, her bold decisions powered the way to this championship.
Rajon Rondo, who came in 2019, was also a big piece as he offered another steady ball handler and floor general. The Lakers saw great performances by him in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and Games two through five in the Houston Rockets series as well.
James explained how he and Buss came to a mutual understanding in the summer of 2019 about the future of the Lakers. After the offseason moves leading to a championship, James credited Buss for her strength of character and how she increased his confidence in the organization.
The moves may have seemed drastic, but it ended up in success. Give Jeanie Buss some credit, the Championship Lakers are back.