Send suitcases full of Victoria's Secret! Gallons of Chanel No.
5! Crates of Cosmo advice!
If you're a Los Angeles Lakers fan and want to keep the dynasty
rolling, anything you can do to keep Jeanie Buss hooked up with
Phil Jackson is absolutely crucial.
See, Jeanie is the former Playboy pinup who happens to be the
daughter of Lakers owner Jerry. She's also likely to be the next
owner of the team. And she also happens to be in a serious
two-year relationship with Jackson, the Los Angeles coach.
But heartache lurks. The endlessly evolving Jackson is nearing
the end of his coaching career. He's 56 and says he would
probably retire when his contract with the Lakers expires after
the 2003-04 season. Zen what? Ride his Harley to Chile? Meditate
with yaks? Levitate? The problem is, Shaquille O'Neal, who turns
30 this week, says he'll leave the team the day Jackson does--and
Shaq has at least five good seasons left in him. Which means L.A.
could be leaving more titles on the table than a DMV clerk.
Think a coach can't crumble a dynasty? Consider what happened to
the Chicago Bulls. Throughout the 1997-98 season Michael Jordan
warned the organization that he'd quit the day that Jackson quit.
After winning his sixth title with Jordan, Jackson was burned out
on coaching and trying to reconcile with his then wife June.
Jackson quit and moved with June to Montana. So Jordan quit. So
Scottie Pippen, seeing a team with all Pips and no Gladys, bolted
to the Houston Rockets. So Dennis Rodman left to become RuPaul.
The Bulls became Bulls---.
In Montana the Jackson Two decided they'd had too much time
together and divorced within the year. That's when the Lakers
hired Jackson--over Jeanie's dead body. "When my dad said he
wanted to hire him, I thought he'd be a difficult personality,"
says Jeanie, the team's vice president of business operations.
"It's a good thing he didn't listen to me."
At the first staff get-together Jackson fell for Jeanie, who
dated John McEnroe, was married to volleyballer Steve Timmons and
was general manager of the L.A. Strings when they won two Team
Tennis championships. It was love-love. There was only one person
in the Lakers' organization that Jackson was trying to please, he
said, famously: "Jeanie Buss--I really want to please her."
Since then he's been as happy as a Buddha, living at the beach,
taking Jeanie on long morning rides on his Harley and leading the
Lakers to two titles in a row. "I don't want him to leave," she
says. "I don't want it to be like Chicago, where they all left at
the same time. That's why I try to make his life easy as a
Back rub, Babe?
Could Jackson be in a better situation? He's fireproof! What boss
would pink-slip the love of his daughter's life? "I never thought
about it like that before," Jackson says with a laugh. "That is a
And has he thought about the fact that if he's still on the bench
when and if Jerry Buss turns over the team to Jeanie, he'd be the
first coach in NBA history to sleep with his owner? "That would
be unique, wouldn't it?" says Jackson.
Word around the Lakers was that it was this unique management
situation that caused former Lakers executive vice president
Jerry West to quit two years ago. "No, no, no," West says between
putts at Bel Air Country Club. "It was my health....But I do
remember, when Phil told me about it, I said, 'Six million women
in L.A., and you have to date this one?'"
Jerry Buss, escorted by his usual matched set of debutantes
(combined, the two women's ages couldn't have been much more than
Jeanie's 40), says he wouldn't want to fire Jackson or break his
daughter's heart. "Besides, how many championships would that
cost me?" he says.
The truth is Jeanie doesn't want to leave--"I love Phil
unconditionally," she says--and, for now, neither does Jackson,
even if Jeanie expects him to. "Because her father moved out on
her," Jackson says of her parents' divorce, "I think Jeanie's
worked a lot on abandonment issues....But I'm happy. Jeanie's a
sweetie. She's thoughtful, gracious and shy. But she can't cook."
What if things on the court suddenly turned to crap and Jackson
had to step down? Jeanie thinks for a second. "I'd probably say,
'Bummer at the office, Babe. What do you want to do for dinner?'"
Pssst. Send the cookbooks, just in case.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA