In 1997, shortly after Jerry divested himself of the last of his increasingly unprofitable horse racing stock, he asked Jimmy to join the Lakers as a sort of Jerry West in waiting. (On Sept. 4, West, 60, signed on for another four years as Lakers executive vice president.) There is some intra-family skepticism about this move. "Jeez!" says Janie. "Jerry West is like a god. It's hard to think of him and Jimmy in the same sentence."
Not for Jimmy. "I always wanted to be a G.M.," he says. He thinks sizing up a player is no different from assessing a stallion. "With a colt, you watch his stride and how he pops to extension," he says. "I just have to learn the qualities to look for in humans."
Jimmy's tutor, West, may be the shrewdest judge of talent in the NBA, and Jimmy has tagged along with him and general manager Mitch Kupchak on several scouting trips. "I've gotten a ton of knowledge from him," Jimmy says of West. "For instance, that watching how a player acts on the bench is as important as how he acts on the floor. [West] looks at what a player does when he comes out of a game and how he interacts with his coach. He'll walk up to a prospect and say, 'How ya doin'? I've got word that you beat up a woman.' And I'm sitting there thinking, Wow! Is this legal?" Yet Jimmy thinks scouting is vastly overrated. "Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult," he says. "If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts."
That comment mystifies West. "I have great admiration for what our scouts do," he says. "If the job is so easy, then why do some teams always have more success than others?"
Jimmy doesn't take West's rejoinder personally. "I don't mind criticism so long as I'm comfortable with what I'm doing," he says. "No matter what I accomplish, I'm going to be ridiculed until I win five championship trophies."
Jimmy's long-range plan is really a short-range plan. "Right now my dad is Number 1 in the Lakers organization, and I'm Number 4," he says. "After another year of this apprenticeship, I'd feel comfortable going from 4 to 1. But you'd have to worry about the comfort level of the current 2 and 3." He need not worry about 2. West plans to leave when Jerry Buss does. Ever the diplomat, West says of the post-Jerry Lakers: "Power is one of the things that scares you because of the way it's used. If it's used correctly, no one will even sense it."
In a slinky blue cocktail dress, Jeanie Buss promenades to her table at a smart Beverly Hills restaurant. A male diner turns his head and stops eating, fork suspended midway to his mouth. Jeanie blushes. And yet three years ago she posed for Playboy.
No dreamer or eager innocent, Jeanie is a realist, a sensible, funny woman who knows what's what. She's a man's kind of woman, with money in the bank, a passion for slasher films and a profound appreciation of all sports. "Of all my kids," says Jerry, "Jeanie's the one who turned out most like me." By which he means she's the one with the business smarts, the one who actually graduated from USC—with honors, no less.
"Jeanie has a complete knowledge of the interplay of sports marketing, building management and TV," says David Stern. "If she took over the Lakers from her father, I don't think anything would be lost in the transition."