Despite her optimism about the franchise’s direction, Los Angeles Lakers governor Jeanie Buss expressed both hope and uncertainty about the team’s NBA title fortunes and that LeBron James will eventually retire as a Laker.
“The standard for having your jersey retired as a Laker is when a player is inducted into the Hall-of-Fame. I have absolutely no doubt that LeBron will make it into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame,” Buss told Sportskeeda.
“When he does so, then we will retire his jersey. Knowing that he will make it into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame, he will have his Lakers jersey retired, no doubt about it.”
As ESPN first reported, James will switch from No. 6 to No. 23 for the 2022-23 season out of respect for the late Boston Celtics center Bill Russell. James wore No. 23 during his first four seasons with the Lakers (2017-2021), which coincided with helping the Lakers win an NBA title in 2020.
James then wore No. 6 for the past two seasons (2021-23), which coincided last season with eclipsing former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Would the Lakers consider retiring both numbers?
“That’s a discussion for another time,” Buss said.
Jeanie Buss speaks about LeBron James, his future and his play with the Lakers in the 2022-23 NBA season
Buss addressed various topics in a wide-ranging interview with Sportskeeda, including James’ possible retirement, her support for coach Darvin Ham and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, Pau Gasol’s upcoming induction in Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame and more.
The following is part 1 of the extensive Q&A.
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
Q - What was your reaction to LeBron saying after the season ended that he might retire?
My dad [Jerry Buss] told me many times that no decision should be made after a loss in the playoffs. You give yourself time and space to reflect on things and not make any decisions in those kinds of moments.
It was exactly how we treated LeBron – it was to give him his space and time that he needed to reflect and make his decision as to what is right for him.
Until LeBron said officially at the ESPYS that he’s returning, what was your level of optimism or concern about his decision?
Again, it was about giving him his space and letting him make his decision. But with the way he played last season, there was to me no reason for him to retire.
But I can’t make up his mind. He has a contract. If he does play in the NBA, he’s a Laker. That part, I knew. But you can’t force somebody to play if they don’t want to play. It was really his decision to make.
LeBron made it clear last season that he would defer to the front office on roster moves and support anything they did or didn’t make. How did you see that dynamic play out?
He was true to his word in terms of supporting the organization and the decisions that the organization is making. It was exactly what he meant.
He would be in support of the decisions that the organization was making like hiring a new head coach. I can’t speak for LeBron. But he was true to that statement, and we appreciate his support.
What will you remember most about the night LeBron eclipsed Kareem’s all-time scoring record?
It was really a special moment. It felt like a celebration and the idea that Kareem was there to literally pass the torch is what made it really special. It had a playoff-type atmosphere. It had a family feel with the Lakers family.
It was great for LeBron to be able to break that record in Los Angeles. I’m grateful the record will be held by somebody wearing a Lakers jersey at the time. But it’s really LeBron’s record and a tribute to him for his career. It isn’t a Lakers record. It’s a LeBron record.
He’s had just an amazing career. Being the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is a pretty unique title to own. Congratulations to him. I was just grateful to be a part of it and host an event that people would remember for a long time.
I don’t even know how to describe it. I’m grateful the Lakers organization can be a part of such an important milestone in history and we got to witness history being made in person.
What would it mean if LeBron retires as a Laker?
It would mean a lot. But it won’t change his contributions to Lakers history. It’s great if he retires as a Laker. That’s the ultimate thing because a player like Shaquille O’Neal has meant so much to Lakers history, but he wasn’t a Laker when he retired from the NBA. But that didn’t change what his part of Lakers history was. When he retired from the NBA, we retired his Lakers jersey.
Given that, is it definitive the Lakers will retire LeBron’s jersey?
The standard for having your jersey retired as a Laker is when a player is inducted into the Hall-of-Fame. I have absolutely no doubt that LeBron will make it into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame. When he does so, then we will retire his jersey. Knowing that he will make it into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame, he will have his Lakers jersey retired. No doubt about it.
Will that be both of his jersey numbers or just one of them?
That’s a discussion for another time.
What’s your message to LeBron James and his family following Bronny’s cardiac arrest this week?
I don’t want to make any public comments about that. I defer to the request the James family made and am giving them their time to be together as a player. That’s done privately.
(Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said in a statement on Thursday, “Thanks to the swift and effective response by the USC athletics’ medical staff, Bronny James was successfully treated for a sudden cardiac arrest. He arrived at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center fully conscious, neurologically intact and stable. Mr. James was cared for promptly by highly-trained staff and has been discharged home, where he is resting. Although his workup will be ongoing, we are hopeful for his continued progress and are encouraged by his response, resilience, and his family and community support”).