You all remember King Lear, Shakespeare's play about a dysfunctional 12th-century family. Lear was a capricious autocrat who alternately indulged and badgered his children. The kids endured the old man's shenanigans until Lear, addled by the prospect of his own mortality, carved up his kingdom and parceled it out to them.
Then all hell broke loose.
Jerry Buss fancies himself a kind of benevolent King Leer. He has snapshots of almost all the women he has ever dated, and he stores them—the photos, not the women—in bound volumes in the library of his Los Angeles estate. "It's quite a collection," he says. "I'm up to album eight."
Women are just one of the collectibles in this extravagant sensualist's life, competing for interest with rare coins, rare stamps and rare comic books. Most important of all is his cache of L.A. sports franchises. At the moment it consists of two basketball teams, the NBA's Lakers and the WNBA's Sparks, but in the past it has included franchises in ice hockey (the Kings), roller hockey (the Blades), TeamTennis (the Strings) and indoor soccer (the Lazers). To house these acquisitions, Buss bought his own arena, the Great Western Forum.
While building his sporting kingdom, Buss sired a large family. Before he embraced the Playboy philosophy in the mid-1960s, he and his wife, JoAnn, had four children: Johnny, Jimmy, Jeanie and Janie. After Jerry divorced JoAnn, in 1972, he had two more kids—Joey, now 14, and Jesse, 10—with one of his girlfriends, Karen Demel. Recently he has become a father figure to Demel's 24-year-old son Sean, who just changed his last name to Buss. No word on whether he plans to change his first name to Juan.
Though Jerry is still sovereign, at 65 he may feel that time's winged messenger is drawing near. Over the last few years he has assigned more responsibility to his four oldest kids. "I want to prepare them for the day they take over the operation," he says. "I feel better having family members involved."
He has installed Johnny, a testy onetime race-car driver, as president of the Sparks; Jimmy, a happy-go-lucky onetime horse trainer, as assistant general manager of the Lakers; Jeanie, an ebullient marketing whiz and onetime Playboy pinup, as president of the Forum; and Janie, an earthy housewife and onetime psychology major, as an executive in the Lakers' community relations office. Even sweet-natured Sean, an employee in the Lakers' season-ticket office who wears three hoops in his left ear and two in his right, appears destined for big things. "Dad is trying to get the L.A. franchise in Ted Turner's new summer football league," Sean reports. "If he does, I'll be working under the general manager. Down the road, if the opportunity of being the G.M. were to arise, I hope Dad would consider me."
For now Dad envisions a triumvirate, with Jeanie in charge of the Forum and the Lakers' business side, Jimmy in charge of Lakers player personnel and Johnny in charge of the Sparks. "There's room for each one of them," Jerry says.
He may be alone in that opinion. Though Johnny's team is one of Jeanie's Forum tenants, the two siblings have barely spoken since 1995 and don't acknowledge each other's presence in the halls of the building. Johnny's relationship with Jimmy is similarly strained: Their last conversation was more than a year ago. And while Jimmy and Jeanie talk, they're not close.