Episode nine of Hulu's "Legacy: The True Story Of The L.A. Lakers," directed by Antoine Fuqua and executive produced by Jeanie Buss, premiered on Monday. It covers an intriguing decade, bookended by championships but loaded with sibling backstabbing. Your Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2010s with a bang, and ended it with a promising roster that would lead them to a title a few months into the 2020s. But in between those peaks, L.A. would deal with some atypical valleys.
With Trevor Ariza departing in free agency hot off the Lakers' 2009 title, L.A. brought in defensive stalwart Ron Artest (now Metta Sandiford-Artest). Neither Ariza nor Sandiford-Artest sat for a new interview in the doc.
The Lakers rode a 57-25 record to a third straight NBA Finals trip, and a second in three years against the loathed Boston Celtics. It was a rock fight, and the teams headed into a seventh game exhausted by both the actual on-court action and the off-court psychic gravity of a Lakers-Celtics Finals.
"We understood the seriousness of the game, what was on the line, and the rivalry," starting point guard Rajon Rondo said of the moment. "It was all or nothing." By this point, Rajon Rondo had blossomed into an All-Star and had developed an appreciation for the context of what a 12th Lakers-Celtics Finals meant.
Boston entered the four quarter of that seventh and final game with a 13-point lead. All-Star Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, whose shot was failing him, pulled a 2006 Dwyane Wade and drove to the line over and over again to secure the W.
"Kobe trusted us, and he made us feel so good, and he passed me the ball," Metta World Peace reflected in his postgame comments. "He never passes me the ball!" Again, it's a bummer MWP wasn't available for an interview.
"That was a cute jab because, when Kobe was younger, he did have some teammates that couldn't shoot the ball in the ocean if they were standing on a yacht," Kobe's widow Vanessa Bryant reflects in current interview footage. "But once he realized that he had teammates that he could trust, I feel like he became more comfortable and became a better teacher."
In the 2011 offseason, the Lakers signed free agent reserve small forward Matt Barnes and free agent backup point guard Steve Blake to mount a title defense. The season proved to be a bit bumpy, the Lakers ultimately finished with the West's third seed and an identical 57-25.
"That year, in the first round of the playoffs, [team president] Mitch Kupchak flew with the team to New Orleans," the team's current controlling owner Jeanie Buss says in the documentary. This is highly unusual, he's never done this before. Then a few days later, Phil called me screaming, 'What is happening? Why are they doing this?' And I go what are you talking about? They just informed the staff that they're no longer employed after June 30th. We're trying to win a playoff series here."
"Basically you don't renew the support staff of the coach when that coach is not coming back," Jim Buss explains. "And Phil wasn't coming back."
"That was probably my hardest year of coaching and I was ready to retire," Jackson says in "Legacy." "I'm dealing with a situation of a [prostate] cancer operation at the end of the season."
"When he announced he had cancer, we all knew that he was finished after that particular season, but normally if there's gonna be changes made it's gonna be made in the offseason, not during a run where you're trying to capture a third championship," Matt Barnes opined. "You really don't want to mess up the chemistry."
Lamar Odom echoed this sentiment a bit more succinctly: "Why would you want to disturb that groove?"
"We beat New Orleans in the first round, but it was tough," starting point guard Derek Fisher acknowledges. "The amount of energy and connectedness that it takes to win a championship -- it was just gone."
"You had all these dynamics going on and the team just folded like a deck of cards," Jeanie Buss adds.
Dallas Mavericks majority owner Mark Cuban offered up his thoughts about the issue.
"I remember going up to Phil after the game, and I remember telling him, 'Don't retire. We need you.' He goes, 'No, I'm done. This was my last game.'"
In the offseason, Jackson traveled to San Diego to visit his assistant coach Frank Hamblen and discuss future plans. "We sat and talked about the season, about the team, about resolving what went down," Jackson said. :The two of us over a couple beers at a race track, we were kind of like, 'Okay, let's get on with our lives.'"
Here's where the team's coaching carousel kicked into high gear. When the club passed over Brian Shaw, Jim Buss moved swiftly to sign Mike Brown. Brown was followed in quick succession by Mike D'Antoni, Byron Scott, Luke Walton, and, more recently, Frank Vogel.
Here's where we dive into a bit of a "he said/she said" breakdown of the Buss kids' estate, following the 2013 death of Dr. Buss. Dr. Buss had expressed to Jim Buss that he would oversee the basketball element and Jeanie would oversee the business element -- and apparently most of the rest of the Buss family and their associates believed that to be the case. But, as Jeanie reveals, their father had also told Jeanie that she would actually be the team governor, and have the final say over both elements. "I think he kept it to himself in terms of the family because he may have been talked out of it or... there would be objection, and he didn't want to have to deal with that," Jeanie says.
On the floor, the team had fully entered a rebuilding situation, which Jim calls "therapeutic" now following the passing of his father. With Dwight Howard having left in 2013 free agency for the Houston Rockets, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant rapidly aging, and Lamar Odom having been traded. "I was hurt" about the move, Odom reflects. "I just took it really personal. I thought I was going to be a Laker for life."
Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon tear in 2013, an injury that begat a series of injuries.
"Kobe was not Kobe anymore on the court," ESPN's Ramon Shelburne reflects now. "You know, he tried, but he just wasn't the same guy, especially after all those injuries."
"Every decision Jim Buss was always being questioned," Lamar Odom notes. "People didn't really understand and respect his basketball knowledge. They just took him as the son."
"As prestigious as that team was, the big free agents were looking more at the Clippers [Barnes's next team after L.A.], they were looking more at Miami," Matt Barnes observes of the era. "They were looking more at the teams that were winning than a historical franchise like the Lakers."
The Buss kids sat down after their first season post-Dr. Buss. It's a pretty funny exchange, I'll leave that to you, dear reader, to check out on your own. It ended in a handshake agreement, that if the team did not return to the playoffs by 2017, Jim Buss would step down from his role as team president.
Jim, accurately, now notes that Jeanie took pains to voice a sort of removed support of Jim and Kupchak's approach to the Lakers' team-building. "I was just focused on the day-to-day operation of a basketball team," Jeanie says now. "Our focus was on building our young players, but it's not easy to plan for the future when you don't know who's going to be with you."
Bryant, by this point an inefficient shadow of his All-Star self (although he was still being voted onto All-Star teams by devout fans, several years removed from what should have been his expiration date in 2013), announced his decision to retire at the end of the 2015-16 season, his 20th in the NBA.
At the end of the day, Jeanie made totally different mistakes than Jim in her own stewardship of the basketball side of things, and it seems she may have been bailed out a bit by the addition of LeBron James, who was able to help lure Anthony Davis to town.
Breathless reverence is showered on Kobe's 60-point final game. He started out 0-for-5, a fact that gets obscured by how he finished: with a whopping 60 points! Bryant's wife and daughters, plus comrades like Shaquille O'Neal, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Gary Payton, Rick Fox, and Phil Jackson were in attendance.
The fact that this relatively meaningless final regular season contest, a glorified exhibition game in which even the Utah Jazz wanted to see Bryant do well, gets more run time in the documentary than a seven-game NBA Finals series, is pretty bizarre. If Fuqua, Buss and co. wanted to further cement the Bryant legend, wouldn't the best approach be highlighting his achievements at or near the peak of his powers, tying Magic Johnson for championship rings while beating the Boston Celtics? Pau Gasol may have been the secret (or not-so-secret) MVP of that 2010 Finals series, but still, Bryant was the leader and focal point of the Celtics' defense.
"January of 2017, I had dinner with Magic [Johnson], and I asked him, 'What do you think about this team? How do you think things are going? I'm tired of watching the Lakers lose. Something needs to be done," Jeanie says.
Johnson was initially hired back on as a consultant to Jeanie Buss. "I would always go to him, you know, for advice on players or [to] talk basketball," Kupchak says. "But Magic coming on board was kind of weird. I never understood that."
"Mitch and I used to talk all the time anyway, because we were friends," Johnson says.
Jim Buss also claims that Johnson scheduled a meeting to chat with himself and Kupchak, and then flaked on the appointment. Johnson and Jeanie Buss both vehemently deny this now.
I'm sensing a pattern when it comes to the veracity of Jim Buss...
The older two Buss brothers, Jim and Johnny, hired lawyers in an attempt to remove Jeanie Buss from the Lakers' team board. "If I'm not on the board, then I wouldn't qualify to be controlling owner, as recognized by the NBA... so [the league] would've forced us to sell the team."
Jeanie then filed a restraining order to compel her two big brothers to follow "the wishes of her father and the family trust," per a CNN report revisited on the show. "We wanted Jeanie to understand that Dad would not have wanted you to just take total control, hire and fire whoever you wanted... without the rest of us being involved," Johnny says. The trust indeed listed Jeanie as the team's controlling owner, superseding her brothers.
"The episode with not hiring Phil and that whole charade, and now this? Okay I was right. This was happening to me, I wasn't just being paranoid."
Episode nine wraps up with a sneak peak at Johnson's LeBron James recruitment, the single biggest success of his tenure as team president of basketball operations.