Five days ago Los Angeles Lakers president and part-owner Jeanie Buss went to court to prevent her older brothers, Jim and Johnny, from removing her as the team’s controlling owner. They claim the entire thing is a misunderstanding and that they were calling for the annual meeting to vote on the team’s board of directors, not removing their sister.
Whatever the Buss brothers were up to, according to a number of legal experts consulted by the Los Angeles Times, the trust that passed control of the team from Jerry Buss to his six children makes it very difficult for anybody but Jeanie to be the Lakers’ controlling owner:
“The trustees,” the document says, “shall take whatever actions are reasonably available to them to have Jeanie M. Buss appointed as the new Controlling Owner of The Los Angeles Lakers, Inc.” [...]
“The language is pretty clear that Jim and Johnny have an ongoing duty to maintain Jeanie as the new controlling owner,” said Patrick Goodman, a probate law expert who teaches at UCLA. “Dr. Buss left practically no wiggle room to argue otherwise.”
The Buss brothers proposed four new directors for the Lakers’ board: themselves, businessman Romie Chaudhari, and Dan Beckerman, president of AEG. But in all their infinite wisdom, it seems they never even asked if Chaudhari or Beckerman wanted to be on the board. From ESPN:
“Mr. Chaudhari and Jim Buss met in connection with a non-basketball business transaction. He never agreed to be included as a candidate for the Lakers board of directors. In addition, Mr. Chaudhari made it very clear that he is not, nor has he ever been, interested in participating in a family dispute.” [...]
Said Beckerman, “We fully support Jeanie Buss as the controlling owner of the Lakers. She has demonstrated her commitment to the franchise and we have complete faith and confidence in her continued leadership.”
So if it is highly unlikely that the Buss brothers can oust Jeanie, and if their slate of proposed directors was just some shit they threw at the wall, what in God’s name are they up to?
Further complicating matters is the inclusion in the notice of a $30,000 a month incentive to the non-shareholder directors (Chaudhari and Beckerman), $10,000 a month to shareholder board members (Jim and Johnny), and a tidy $25 million one-time disbursement to be split amongst the shareholders.
Ahh, they are trying to cash out! Jerry Buss made his millions investing in real estate, and purchased the Lakers (along with the NHL’s Kings, the Forum, and a ranch) in 1979 for $67 million. Unlike most modern team owners, he tied the vast majority of his fortune up in the Lakers. And while the shares in the team he left his children are each worth hundreds of millions, a majority of the family has to agree for any one of them to sell. The Buss children, then, are paper-rich, and (relatively) cash-poor.
Here is how Janie Buss, the fourth-born, describes it:
“The way the trust is set up, it’s last man standing,” Janie says. “If I die tomorrow, my kids benefit a little bit but they don’t get everything I’m entitled to. As we all go down, it’s all going to end up in Joey and Jesse’s hands because they’re the youngest.”
She says she understands why Johnny, age 60 with two young kids, would want to cash out and leave more to his own children. She’s had the same thought. But ultimately, she wants to follow her father’s wishes because, “I am living life better than I ever thought I could live, and it’s all because of my dad’s hard work.”
If you are surprised that Janie went on the record to discuss her brothers’ motivations, than hoo boy, check out these quotes:
“This is something huge and it’s not going to go away. They’re trying to bust the trust so they can sell their [interests],” younger sister Janie Buss says. “And if they sell, that’ll leave the rest of us in a minority.”
Janie says she thinks that Johnny and Jim each have different motivations but that their endgame is the same: to cash out.
“Growing up, Johnny was the kid who brought the ball to the park and when things didn’t go his way, he took the ball and ran,” Janie says. “I don’t want to call him a poor sport, because a poor sport would be someone who lost a game and kicked the referee. No, Johnny took the ball away so nobody could play.
“Jimmy will bring the ball, but he’ll be like, ‘Everyone gets to play, but you have to put a dollar in to play. He tries to figure out things mathematically, how to get the best advantage.”
So the Buss brothers either got poor legal advice or had their lawyer push on through anyway, supposedly believed an election for a new board was so urgent they put forward candidates without their knowledge, are proposing an unusual arrangement to get some money out of the team, and are described as the worst kids on the playground by their own little sister. That is all without getting into their (mostly Jim’s) stupid treatment of Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, and Byron Scott, amid other insanity that Ramona Shelburne details.
These seem like good, smart guys!