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A Woman Behind Man, and the Scenes

June 15, 2005|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

She has been Phil Jackson's most visible supporter and most vocal cheerleader. She has campaigned for his return to the Laker coaching job in front of the cameras and behind the scenes. She has been romantically involved with Jackson since he first coached the team six years ago and has publicly bemoaned that he won't marry her.

Yet on Tuesday, when Jackson was rehired as the Laker coach, when his return was announced at Staples Center, Jeanie Buss was nowhere to be seen.

"I wanted this to be about the basketball side of things," she said by phone. "Of course I'm thrilled that Phil and I will be working together again. Everybody knows I support him. I didn't need to be there."

Buss, one of owner Jerry Buss' daughters, works in administration. During Jackson's first tour as coach, he and Jeanie often ate lunch in her office when the team was in town. Recently, Jackson has again been her frequent lunch companion, the first tangible sign of his return.

And although she may not have been present at the news conference, Jackson wasn't hesitant about giving her a good deal of credit for his return.

"I think Jeanie probably was the person that was the most supportive of this," he said, "and saw the possibility of this happening even when I was away from the ballclub."

Jackson stressed that she didn't "pressure" him to return, but added she did "encourage me to think [twice] about retiring from something I've had so much success with, and to [consider] that I was perhaps too young to retire."

Another Buss absent from Tuesday's news conference was Jerry, who is vacationing in Europe.

The one Buss on hand, Jim, the team's assistant general manager, didn't speak.

"Jim kind of likes to operate in the background," Jackson said. "I don't even know if he wants me to say he was part of the process. But his optimism about the team has been a big help."

The background is not the place one expects to find the Buss family, but that's where they were the day Jackson returned to center stage.

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