I’m in my first semester teaching journalism at Chapman University here in Southern California. It’s a new place for me, and I wanted to start the class/semester off right with a couple of quality guest speakers.
A few weeks ago, Jason Shuman (producer of a bunch of movies) came in, and he was outstanding. I’ve known Jason for quite a while, so the humor/insight/empathy was hardly surprising. Great stuff.
Then, yesterday afternoon, Jeanie Buss arrived.
Yes, Jeanie Buss—owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. I initially asked her about speaking to the class a bunch of weeks ago. We know one another from my book, Showtime, and while we’re not close friends or anything, we certainly have a friendly relationship. Jeanie is the nicest sports owner I’ve ever dealt with, as well as the most human. There’s no flash of ego, no arrogance, no holier-than-thou strut. She’s, simply, good peeps.
That being said, I really didn’t think she’d accept. Again, Jeanie Buss owns the Lakers. And I’m an adjunct at Chapman, a small college way down in Orange. What was in it for her? Why waste a day? The drive would surely suck, and the return drive would be even worse. Seriously, what was the benefit?
“OK,” she texted. “Happy to do it.”
So yesterday Jeanie came—and she was beyond fantastic. I have 13 students in my class, but opened the session up to others. In total, there were probably, oh, 35 in attendance. You’d think an NBA owner/executive would be guarded, limited, short. But Jeanie was open, definitive, exploratory. She spoke at length on her sadness of Kobe; on her frustration over the team’s awfulness; on her heartbreak—vivid heartbreak—when Magic Johnson found out he was HIV positive. I mean, that was probably the moment. I’m not sure if Jeanie felt as if she were about to cry—but I did. And so did the students, few of whom were even alive when Magic retired. It was just … euphoric storytelling, unbelievable insight. She discussed her relationship with Phil Jackson (loving and kind of adorable in a let’s-play-Scrabble way) and her brother (she stood up for Jim, but you could kinda tell it’s complicated).
Early, before she dove in, I asked, bluntly, “Why would you come to speak at Chapman? It’s a small school, a long drive … why?” And her reply was telling. In short, Jeanie Buss said she wants to know what young people are thinking; wants to stay connected and understand. She said she feeds off the energy of a college atmosphere, and had this respect for education that never faded.
The respect, I assure her, is mutual.