Unless you’ve been living under a rock all this time, you know that the Lakers are troubled, if not in trouble, when the controlling owner sends out a cryptic tweet in the middle of the night. It isn’t simply that Jeanie Buss said she misses Kobe Bryant, or that she referred to him as “the greatest Laker ever;” in so doing, she threw not only current star LeBron James under the bus; she did the same to generations of marquee names, among them Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West. It’s that she chose to further muddy already murky waters.
As to what prompted Buss to vent on social media, only she can tell. Suffice to say that she was motivated enough to open her account to all and sundry with her “All can reply” finish, in contravention of her convention to keep threads going only for those she follows on the social networking service. Why? Was she looking for sympathy? Did she want to get the pulse of Lakerland? Perhaps she’s angling to see how the prospect of getting mercurial guard Kyrie Irving would be greeted. Unfortunately, in putting Hall of Famers in the hot seat, she managed to do the same for herself.
Buss has a well-deserved reputation for being an iron lady; after all, she didn’t blink twice in ousting brother Jim from management five years ago. In being cryptic, however, she showed an uncertain side of herself that portrays her as weak at a time when her usual self is precisely what’s needed. The Lakers are at a crossroads, having just failed to make the playoffs and, with the fourth-highest payroll in the National Basketball Association, needing to make a change — any change — in the offseason to escape from mediocrity. Given the sense of urgency, only a fool would believe that waxing nostalgic is the answer.
There’s likewise the problem of Buss’ tweet having a disingenuous bent. She said Bryant “understood team over self. Meaning your rewards would come if you valued team goals over your own then everything would fall into place.” As even casual observers of the pro hoops scene know, however, the player she referred to as “KB” wasn’t exactly selfless on and off the court. He was responsible for scuttling his championship pairing with Shaquille O’Neal because he wanted to be the man. And a mere handful of years later, he just about forced his way to the Bulls; the only kink was his refusal to have then-all-star Luol Deng be part of the package going the Lakers’ way in exchange for him. Indeed, his egocentric view — as manifested in the need to ensure that the roster he would be inheriting remained competitive — proved to be the only reason he stayed in purple and gold.
What Buss’ momentary indulgence will ultimately achieve is anybody’s guess. In any case, one thing is clear: She’s much, much better than that — or, at least, she has to be for the Lakers to be able to paint a rosy picture in the near term.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.