Former Lakers Owner Jerry Buss Dreamed of Signing LeBron James 8 Years Before His Daughter Did So

Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe Bryant. Shaquille O’Neal. Those are just a few of the many legends who represented the Los Angeles Lakers. And now, you can add none other than LeBron James to that esteemed group.

After a Hall of Fame-caliber 15 seasons, James signed with the Lakers in 2018. However, eight years prior, longtime owner Jerry Buss was already interested in the King coming to LA and representing the Purple and Gold.

The LeBron James free agent sweepstakes dominated the 2010 offseason

In 2010, the 25-year-old James was already a six-time All-Star. Through seven seasons, the Akron native won back-to-back MVP Awards as well as a scoring title. Three years before free agency, the King improbably led his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.

Needless to say, LeBron was a hot commodity. But only a few teams had a realistic shot at landing the biggest unrestricted free agent the league had ever seen.

The New York Knicks were one of those teams seeking to sign James. However, a poor meeting took them out of the running. The Chicago Bulls also tried to recruit the star forward, but their efforts were rejected. The New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets and LA Clippers were also in the mix, along with his hometown Cavaliers.

In the end, LeBron turned down all of those suitors. Instead, the superstar took his talents to South Beach and joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. James’ contract, which was executed as part of a sign-and-trade with Cleveland, was a six-year, $110 million pact.

Jerry Buss wanted LeBron to join the Los Angeles Lakers

You’ll notice that of all the teams heavily linked to James in 2010, the Lakers were not one of them. LA already had two stars in Bryant and Pau Gasol, along with key veterans like Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace taking up its cap space. Not to mention, the franchise had just beat the Boston Celtics to win its second title in a row and 16th overall.

Still, that didn’t stop Buss from taking an interest in LeBron.

The late Dr. Buss, who purchased the Lakers in 1979, had a flair for the dramatic. After overseeing the Showtime era as well as the three-peat in the early 2000s, Buss had visions of LeBron eventually coming to LA to form a historic 1-2 punch with Bryant (h/t: Los Angeles Times).

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.

Tania Ganguli

No meeting ever took place that summer between James and the Lakers. But the seeds were in fact sowed in the mind of Jeanie Buss.

Jeanie Buss managed to fulfill her father’s dream

The elder Buss died in 2013 at 80 years old, less than three years after James signed with the Heat. But Jeanie, his daughter and the new controlling owner of the Lakers, would eventually pull off the task her father dreamed of doing years earlier.

After completing a new four-year run with Cleveland that resulted in an NBA title, LeBron declined his player option and became a free agent. On July 9, 2018, the four-time MVP and future Hall of Famer officially signed a four-year, $153 million deal with the Lakers.

Unlike in 2010, the Lakers desperately needed James’ services. The franchise was marred in a five-year playoff drought and in desperate search of a star to replace the retired Kobe. LeBron fit the bill, and by his second season, he delivered LA its 17th championship in a historic Finals victory in the Bubble.

James is now in his fourth year with the Lakers. Since joining the team, he has secured one championship and looked every bit as excellent as he did as a 25-year-old in 2010. More importantly, he took on a major role in helping the organization and its fans heal in the wake of Bryant’s tragic death in January 2020.

He may not have been a Laker at the time Jerry Buss hoped for. But LeBron clearly joined the Purple and Gold at the right time.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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