I’ve often said that one of the perks of being a sportswriter in Los Angeles – 8½ years at the old Herald Examiner, 30-plus at the Times – was getting to meet interesting people.
One of my all-time favorites is Jeanie Buss, and not just because she is strikingly beautiful or because her father owns the Lakers or, more recently, that her boyfriend is Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ coach.
Mainly it is because she is simply one of the nicest, sweetest people you’d ever want to meet. (Yes, Phil Jackson is a lucky man.)
I first met Jeanie in 1980, I believe, when she gave me and a few other media members a tour of her father’s house at the time, the Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills. Over the years, she has always been kind, friendly and courteous to me, but I suspect she treats everyone that way.
Anyway, to get to my story.
Almost since moving to Arcadia in 1978, at least since the early 1980s, I have usually gone to Prince Jewelers on Huntington Avenue whenever it is time to get my wife Norma a gift – be it Christmas, her birthday or Mother’s Day.
During that time I befriended the owner, who until recently I only knew as Lam. That’s what everyone calls him. His real name is Si Huynh, and he came to the United States from Viet Nam in 1979.
After the Lakers won another NBA championship under Jackson last spring, Lam, knowing I had been a sportswriter, asked me if I knew the coach. I told Lam I knew him a little but knew Jeanie better.
Lam explained he would like to make a pair of cufflinks for Jackson and give them to him as a gift – a special thank you for what he had done for his and his teenage son Jordan’s favorite team. He wondered if I would help him get in touch with Jackson.
At the time, I discouraged Lam, telling him that Jackson probably gets lots of gifts, and that maybe he doesn’t even use cufflinks. But Lam went ahead with his plan, and a couple of months later e-mailed a picture of the cufflinks. Each one features the Roman number X (representing Jackson’s record 10 NBA championships), and engraved on the sides are Jackson’s name, in tiny letters, and the Lakers’ title years.
I forwarded the photo to Jeanie and explained where they came from, not knowing what her reaction would be. She e-mailed back saying she loved the cufflinks and that Phil, who was in Montana at the time, would too.
She wanted to buy them, but Lam said to tell her they were a gift. She later suggested that I invite Lam to a game once the season started so that he could present the cufflinks to Jackson personally. She later e-mailed to remind me about her invitation and sent along some possible dates.
The game we picked was played Nov. 8 against the New Orleans Hornets. Since Jeanie provided us with four center-court, third-row seats, my wife and Lam’s son, a junior at Arcadia High, also got to go. The all-important cufflinks presentation came before a pregame dinner where we were Jeanie’s guests in the Arena Club at Staples Center. Jeanie had arranged for us to meet with Jackson in a small private room.
When Jackson entered the room, Lam was almost bursting with excitement. And Jackson couldn’t help but smile when he saw the cufflinks.
Then Lam had a surprise for Jeanie. He gave her a specially made pendant (picture at right) that featured five purple stones surrounding a yellow diamond-studded gold basketball, all inside a gold circle representing a basketball rim. He called it the “Lakers Dynasty Pendant.”.
Jeanie was overwhelmed. “I love it,” she said after Lam attached it around her neck.
Lam said, “It looks perfect on you. This is one of the best pieces of jewelry I have ever made.” He explained the five purple stones could represent five players on the court or the five championships the Lakers have won under Jackson and the yellow basketball could represent anything she wanted it to – her father, her boyfriend, whatever.
“You are a genius,” Jeanie told Lam.
Now it was his turn to smile.
And the two pieces of jewelry seemed to work as good-luck charms. The Lakers ended up dominating the Hornets that night in impressive fashion, 104-88.