Eight years ago Jerry Buss had a dream.
LeBron James as a Laker. It was the summer of 2010 and the Lakers were not going to be players in free agency. They had just won their 16th championship, beating the hated Boston Celtics. They had their team. Besides, they had no salary cap space to add a star.
Buss thought about calling James anyway. Over lunch with his kids, he mentioned the idea, offhandedly.
“It’d be good to know that guy,” his son Joey recalled him saying. League rules allowed teams to meet with any free agent. Why not meet with James to introduce him to the Lakers’ vision? Why not sow the seeds of a future partnership?
“LeBron was always somebody that he was interested in,” said Buss’ daughter Jeanie, the Lakers co-owner.
The idea took eight years to materialize. The 2010 meeting never happened. Two years later, after James won his first championship, the Buss family patriarch was in the grip of an illness that eventually took his life.
Jerry Buss never saw James turn into a three-time champion, a savior in Cleveland and an entertainment mogul. He also never saw the team he stewarded through 10 championships fall to the depths of the last five years. He didn’t see a player who was like a son to him, Magic Johnson, come back to the franchise in an effort to suspend its free fall. The recovery has been painful, and it is not complete. But eight years after Buss first suggested James should be a Laker one day, he is one.