Jeanie Buss and Los Angeles Lakers Legends Talk Kobe Bryant and the Franchise's 'Legacy' (Exclusive)

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There are plenty of narratives out there about the storied history of the Los Angeles Lakers -- including the recent lauded HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty -- but now, Lakers president Jeanie Buss and several legends of the basketball dynasty are telling the story in their own words, in a new Hulu docuseries, Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers.

"I enjoyed hearing players talk about their experience as Lakers," Buss reflected on the docuseries when she and some of the players featured sat down with ET this week. "Some of the players we traded away [talked about] what that felt like-- and it made it very personal and very human. Those were things that I had never heard before."

The series, like Buss' legacy with the team, begins with her father, Jerry Buss, who purchased the Lakers in 1979 and immediately invigorated the franchise with the drafting of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and a 1980 NBA Finals win over the Philadelphia 76ers. He also boosted the social side of the Los Angeles basketball scene, with the creation of his own nightlife hotspot, The Forum Club, and the court-side appeal of the infamous Laker Girls.

"That's who he was," said Antoine Fuqua, who directed the Legacy series. "He was a charming, handsome man. He enjoyed life, he enjoyed people. You can't tell the story without showing who he was... it was a different era, right? He lived his life honestly, pretty open, and we all wish we could do that."

"He was the first to integrate entertainment and sports," added Norm Nixon, who was on the Lakers when Buss purchased the team. "We ended up being a championship team and our style of play was entertaining, so the Forum just became the place... He was an owner that was not necessarily hands-on with the decisions -- he allowed his people to do their job -- but hands-on with us, as far as having a relationship, and I think that was a great part of his ownership style."

"I thought owners were robots, you know? Big people who talked all business," noted Jelani McCoy, who was part of the Lakers' 2002 championship team. "He was just like one of us, and he was about entertainment and basketball and a family environment. It's kinda hard to ignore somebody like that."

For the players, spanning from the "Showtime Era" icons like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to current All-Stars like LeBron James, Legacy is also about telling the true story of the team and its legendary cast of players -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

Abdul-Jabbar explained that one of the biggest misconceptions about his time on the team was that it was a struggle to get the players to come together, to break the tension between teammates and form the winning combination that led to their 1980 title. 

"The only problem we had was during the season [was], some of the guys was messing around," he admitted. "As far as the relationships between the guys, there was never any problem... We all got into the concept of, we're in this to win as a group."

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Lakers players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo flank team owner Jerry Buss after winning the 1985 NBA Championship.

Bettmann/Getty Images

Upon Jerry Buss' death in February 2013, his controlling ownership of the Lakers passed to his six children, with Jeanie Buss taking her father's place as the Lakers' representative on the NBA Board of Governors and assuming the role of team president.

"My dad spent a lot of time with me, preparing me for the position that I am in today," Buss recalled. "He left a [vision for] how he wanted the team to be owned and operated by the family, for the team to stay in the family, and he put me in charge of that vision. I like to say that my dad had his children, but the Lakers were his baby, and so he put me in charge of the baby."

Despite her father's guidance, Buss didn't always have the easiest time with her leadership roles in a male-dominated field. Legacy gets candid about sexual harassment she faced throughout her years as the leader of the team. Buss shared with ET that she felt it was an important detail of her story to share to show the resilience she had to "not allow something like that to diminish me as a person and make me doubt my abilities and my right to be in the room."

"[It] wasn't that I felt in any physical peril. The point of what happened, to me, was about people saying I didn't belong, that I shouldn't be included in this boys' club," she added. "It was an intimidation factor, to push me away... I wanted women to hear it, that you deserve a seat at the table. Don't be intimidated. If I can be an example to that, if I can be an inspiration, then that's why I shared that story."

Another emotional moment in Lakers history came on Nov. 7, 1991, when Johnson gave a press conference announcing that he had tested positive for HIV -- a shock to his friends and teammates and a devastating blow to one of the most promising careers in NBA history.

magic johnson retirement press conference 1991

Magic Johnson announced his retirement from the NBA on Nov. 7, 1991, after being diagnosed HIV positive.

Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images

"It was a very emotional day for all of us," recalled Vlade Divac, a Laker at the time. "I remember walking down and seeing Earvin in the tunnel, and I got the news and I started crying -- because back then we didn’t know much about it, you know?"

"I didn’t understand what had happened," added Abdul-Jabbar. "All of a sudden it was unfolding, and I heard the people around Earvin and the team already knew, but they weren’t saying -- I found out more, it affected me more, but I made it through the day. I don’t know how I did it... We all just wanted to see Earvin survive."

Of course, the Lakers' biggest tragedy in recent years was the loss of Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in Jan. 2020. Derek Fisher, who was part of the Lakers teams that included the winning duo of Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, recalled the "sense of urgency and respect for the legacy" that his era of Lakers players felt as the team brought home three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000-02.

"That’s where the intensity came from," he added of the highly-publicized professional tension between Bryant and O'Neal at the time. "We weren't just here to put the uniform on and act like we were Lakers. To be Lakers, you had to win... There's always tension when greatness is being formed."

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Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were part of a Lakers team that won three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000-02.

Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Bryant's legacy is undeniably linked to the Lakers -- Buss noted how rare it is in the modern NBA era for a player, especially one of Bryant's caliber, to play their entire career with one team.

"He set the bar for us," she said. "I will always be inspired by him -- I wear a bracelet, and I'm thinking about getting my first tattoo just so I'm always reminded of his work ethic, and what it meant for him to be a Laker for life, for 20 years... We will continue to honor him forever, because he left a mark on this franchise, on me personally, that will stand the test of time."

Of Bryant's legacy, Buss added, "It's about challenging yourself, it's about, 'What did you do today to be better?' and competing with yourself. It doesn't matter what else is going on around you, the distractions, it's about finding that inner warrior and being the best that you can be."

McCoy agreed, noting, "Kobe is a microcosm of Los Angeles. People come here with big dreams of being an actor, being a director, a producer, a journalist, an athlete, whatever. This is a place where we watched a young man grow up into an adult who you know encapsulated the whole city and visions of winning, and keeping up with traditions of winning and championships, so I know he inspired a whole group of anybody that played in Southern California.

Noting current NBA stars like DeMar DeRozen and James Harden, who grew up in Los Angeles being inspired as Bryant was coming into his prime with the Lakers, McCoy added, "He probably stopped crime when he played, because the whole city of LA would stop and watch the Laker game... He galvanized LA -- which is kind of a transient city, people come in and out -- he made LA whole for a lot of periods of times, 'cause people wanted to see what was going down on that basketball court."

"Think about it," added Robert Horry, who won three of his seven NBA Championship rings as a member of the Lakers. "He came in [as a] 17-year-old kid, at one point was the youngest guy in the NBA. You watched him grow from a boy to a man... He grew and the city grew with him, and they got to see him mature, because if you watch him as an individual when he first started out, it was him versus the world."

"Then you see him soften as he got kids, as he became a father, became a husband, like OK, it’s not just about basketball -- I could do more with this," he continued. "I think that's what the city loved about Kobe so much, 'cause I think it's very rare that you get to grow up with an athlete."

Legacy: the True Story of the LA Lakers premieres Aug. 15 on Hulu.

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