About midway through a wide-ranging podcast interview, Jeanie Buss was asked about Kobe Bryant — about how proud she must be of the way the Lakers franchise handled his sudden death and how the team responded to it.
“I would give anything to go back and have Jan. 26 never take place,” the Lakers’ governor and controlling owner said.
Then she told a personal story about another star. When her dad, Jerry Buss, bought the Lakers in 1979, they drafted Magic Johnson and became the NBA’s premiere franchise. It ended suddenly when Johnson had to retire in 1991 because of an HIV diagnosis.
“I prayed to the skies above and I said if we ever get a player on our team like Magic Johnson again, I will never ever, ever take that player for granted,” Buss said, her voice catching. “And then we got Kobe. As heartbroken as I am, one comfort that I have is that Kobe knew how much we loved him and we told him and we retired his numbers. He never doubted that we were behind him 100%. That gives me some comfort. We never held back the celebrating the greatness that was Kobe.”
It was one of the heavier subjects she discussed on the Daddy Issues podcast with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson, which included many lighter subjects: her family dynamics, her relationship with Phil Jackson and her much-talked-about Twitter photo.
Buss talked about her experience as a child when her parents were going through a divorce. She was asked if that brought her siblings together and said it didn’t.
“When everybody’s in that kind of anxiety I think it doesn’t lend itself to being supportive,” she said. “At least in my case.”
Buck mentioned the pressure involved in following his own father’s footsteps and said he’s always had a nagging feeling that he wouldn’t have had the broadcasting career he has without his father. He asked if Buss ever felt the same.
“Absolutely,” she said.
She then detailed the succession plan her father put in place and how he told her he wanted her running the business and her brother Jim running basketball, but gave her the final say in how things would go. In discussing her disappointment in the Lakers losing their winning ways during the next few years, Buss said the team changed coaches and styles so often that it became difficult for it to have an identity.
Buck asked how often Buss dreams of her father.
“There have been moments in the last seven years that I’ve had these very visceral dreams where either I’m going through some stress or I feel I’m not confident in a decision or whatever and there’ll be an appearance,” Buss said. “Or sometimes out of nowhere I’ll run into a person or see somebody and they’ll come up, share a story about my dad that I’ve never heard. Or they’ll send me a picture or something. It’s like a trigger that then the good feelings come back. This is what it was like when he was around. How important that is for me.”
She added later: “I’ve had a couple dreams about Kobe too and it’s like, those make me feel like he’s OK. Like it’s gonna be OK.”
The explanation of her Twitter avatar — a photo of her with no clothes visible, upside down and holding two basketballs in front of her chest — came near the end. Buss, 58, had been hearing comments for years from people who felt it was inappropriate and assumed it came from her 1995 photoshoot with Playboy. So she shared the story behind the photo.
When a photographer arrived at her home for a 1998 Sports Illustrated story about the Buss family, he pitched an idea that horrified her. She told the photographer he was mocking her and she didn’t even know what the story would be.
“And he’s like, ‘I’m really sorry. I don’t know who you are,’” Buss recalled, chuckling. “I’m not a sports fan. I do fashion photography and for whatever reason they hired me to take your picture. The only requirement they gave me was that I had to have basketballs in the picture.’”
He proposed a photo that would have her looking like a pin-up in the style of a mermaid, and Buss was on board.
“It was kind of like I was like a mermaid underwater with a blue backdrop,” Buss said. “They used to show mermaids holding pearls … and so instead of the pearls I got basketballs. And I’m not naked but I might look like I’m naked. I get people [who say], ‘How dare you put a naked picture of you on Twitter. It was in Playboy.’ And it’s not. It was from Sports Illustrated!
“Yes, do I have to talk about the Playboy and the decision [to pose]. Yes, I’m still explaining it 20 years later. They want to judge and put me in a category.”