Jeanie Buss Laughs Through Her Pain


The applause had stopped when she reached the microphone, and Jeanie Buss was faced with the scariest sound for a stand-up comedian.


He had been preparing for this moment for months. In fact, months and a week: he missed his first stand-up show in North Hollywood. HaHa Cafe In September 2018, because her day job got in the way. Once you own the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James makes his preseason debut, a comedy launch party can wait.

Buss had sought comedy as a healing tool, unaware of how frightening it would be. His movement was raw, vulnerable. It was funny sometimes.

“Someone called me Barbie,” said blonde-haired Buss, opening her set. “In LA, I’m actually Barbie’s mom.”

It was a comedic purification that came just when he needed it most.

Or so he thought.

The bus likes to laugh.

A waiter at Jinky’s Cafe in Studio City, California, said the restaurant is serving Tater Tots, clapping and smiling as if watching Lakers forward Anthony Davis dunk.

With the Lakers long gone from the playoffs after a staggering first-round defeat to the Phoenix Suns, it will be a while before he sees that again. But the mood is high these days. It’s been weeks since the Lakers’ pursuit of back-to-back titles abruptly ended, and some have seen it come after the quick turnaround from the end of last season to the start of this season.

“I felt like we were never going to be able to hold our breath,” she said.

He also added that he saw the Lakers championship spark in the Suns’ embers.

“A lot of people are surprised by Phoenix, but I’m not,” he said. “You could say the way they play in the bubble, it’s like money in the bank. They got it right from there and you could tell they were very well prepared. They know each other well.”

Frustration has diminished so much that Buss can joke about it. But in mid-2018, he couldn’t find much to laugh about after a series of personal and professional blows.

His father, Jerry Busdied at the age of 80 in February 2013, after being hospitalized for cancer for more than a year. Lakers franchise, bought in 1979 He headed for 10 championships, was ridiculed, stuck in the worst period in his history. The last icon of the team, Kobe Bryant, retired in April 2016. Eight months later, former Lakers coach Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson ended their long-standing engagement. And in early 2017, Buss hired Hall of Famer Magic Johnson as head of basketball operations and replaced longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak with Bryant’s manager Rob Pelinka, a Shakespearean take on control of the Lakers. The fight went public. He also accepted the resignation of his brother Jim as vice president of basketball operations. A subsequent lawsuit split the family in two.

It was enough for Buss to search for answers.

He found them on stage.

She’d always had a love affair with stand-up comedy, but she never thought she’d be able to sustain it until she was convinced four years ago by stand-up comedians Theo Von and Heather McDonald at a barbecue on July 4th. McDonald suggested that Buss retake a lecture given by longtime comedian Lisa Sundstedt. Titled “Beautiful, Funny Women”, the course is designed for first-time comedian women, regardless of age, race, or economic status. Buss first started the course after his father’s death in 2013, but gave up after three weeks. This time he was stunned by “a cross section of people I would never meet in my ordinary life”.

Sundstedt saw real improvement in Buss on his second run.

“She’s so shy that she probably doesn’t even realize she’s funny,” Sundstedt said. “In a world where he has to have this tough exterior, that might not be encouraged.”

When Buss began attending NBA Board meetings for the Lakers in 1995, he was intimidated by some of the looks directed at him.

These days, he trades with the best of thorns.

Wyc Grousbeck, who led a group that bought the Celtics in 2002, said, “Jeanie has always had a special spark. People want her to be good. They’re happy when she succeeds. They know she’s won – and I mean the ‘won’ part. “He is unquestionably respected in the league. He has steel in his veins.”

For one of several interviews with The New York Times, it was clear that he was having a bite to eat at Buss as he sat down for breakfast in early May.

It wasn’t James and Davis’ injuries that triggered the Lakers’ relegation to seventh place in the second Western Conference in mid-March.

It was Bryant.

The previous 18 months had been heavy for Buss. In December 2019, her mother JoAnn died at the age of 86. Less than two weeks later, former NBA commissioner and one of his mentors, David Stern, died on New Year’s Day after being in a coma for several weeks. Then, in late January, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash.

Now the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony was days away, and Bryant was due to enlist. Buss was afraid of that.

He met Bryant in 1996 after a promotional press conference with the team. she was 34 years old; He was 17 years old. The Lakers’ offices were inexplicably empty that day, and no one was tasked with taking the rookie out to lunch. Buss dived into the gig and talked about Italy – Bryant grew up there, and Buss had spent time in the country with her ex-husband, a former professional volleyball player. He remembered that Bryant was surprised when a waiter asked a waiter if he spoke Spanish and said he would learn Spanish later.

In the final season of 2015-16, Bryant relied solely on Buss to complete his farewell tour. Once he invited her to dinner and brought Gianna. She said she wanted her daughter to learn from a strong female sports executive; Buss now believes it’s just a game, that Bryant wanted Buss to know how important he is to him and the team.

When he tells this story, Buss is confused. His shoulders slumped when asked about the Hall of Fame ceremony.

“It’s almost like having to push him away again,” he said, his voice cracking. “We walk into the Hall and it’s like we’re leaving it there. It’s hard. It’s hard to relive that.”

“I guess,” he added, “you just don’t get over it.”

Comedy should never have been a second career. Buss was supposed to help her recover.

But now he has a workplace comedy television series conceived and presented by comedian Mindy Kaling, television writer Elaine Ko, and Linda Rambis, Buss’s longtime Lakers colleague and best friend.

The show takes place in the back offices of an NBA team. In June, Netflix announced that it had given the green light to a 10-episode series. While Buss says the show isn’t based on his life, he and Rambis gave Kaling and Ko almost four decades of behind-the-scenes NBA drama and humor.

“It makes it fun and cathartic for me,” Buss said. “Now, 20 years later, I can look at things and laugh and see in context. What used to be a heavy burden on its own can now be shared and aired. And it didn’t destroy me! Things like that happen and you feel lonely, but people can relate.”

Humor helped Buss handle multiple forms of loss.

Eight months after Bryant retired, Buss and Jackson broke off their four-year engagement. The two had met briefly before, but started dating in 1999 after he became a Lakers coach.

“He was a person I never thought would interest me, but the moment I met him, there was something in his voice,” Buss said. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I said. All I know is that he was that kind of eccentric coach of the Bulls, and then it became the most important relationship in my life.”

Jackson retired from coaching in 2011, but was ready to return to the Lakers in November 2012 after Jim Buss and general manager Kupchak reached out to him while the team was battling under Mike Brown. Jackson wore a Lakers shirt while cooking for Jeanie one night, slyly signaling to her that he was here. But Kupchak called in the middle of the night and said they had decided to hire Mike D’Antoni instead. Jeanie Buss was devastated.

Part of Fallout was the rekindling of Jackson’s interest in basketball, which led to him taking over as team president of the Knicks, which took him across the country from Buss. This was the beginning of the dissolution of their relationship.

“Comedians come from pain, and you immediately say, what kind of pain can he have?” said his close friend, comedian Craig Shoemaker. “Money, looks, fame, he has one of the best brands in history – you can get past that barrier by telling the truth in seconds. If you’re dishonest, it’ll always come out. And he’s not.”

Years after his stand-up comedy career, Buss is back to finding joy in basketball, even if this season has ended badly.

The Lakers are no longer a joke. He said helping the league reach its 17th NBA title last season was his greatest achievement, even though the celebrations have been marred by multiple losses over the years: his father, his mother, Stern, Bryant.

“This is a huge loss,” he said. “And everything came back in that moment.”

There was laughter mixed with tears at the time, but now contemplating the championship, Buss knows what it will mean for his legacy.

“I think people are saying ‘It belongs’ now,” Buss said. “Would I be in this position if my father wasn’t the owner of the team? Probably not. But I deserve to be here.”

His role, now approaching 60, is definitely different and embracing it. His father bought the team when he was 17. With Johnson and the Lakers of the early ’80s, she was a younger sister. Then she became “a big sister, of course” with Bryant.

Once again, his role changed.

“I’m a mom now,” she said about her current relationship with the actors. “I’m proud to say it.”

Pauses for effect like a trained stand-up. Doc Rivers meets Joan Rivers.

“When I’m going to be a grandmother, I’m not so sure. I can hang out with my mom.”


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