Crisis Communication: An analysis of Jeanie Buss’s actions following Magic Johnson’s announcement

Magic Johnson shakes hands with a man at the Sports Museum of America in 2009. Photo Credit: Philipschwalb

One word: Yikes.

On April 9, 2019, Magic Johnson, a beloved Los Angeles Laker, announced in a press conference that he would be leaving his position as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. This should be news, but it shouldn’t turn into a Kardashian episode, but Johnson made the announcement without alerting the Lakers organization prior. Talk about transparency.

Magic Johnson, yellow, posts up Clyde Drexler, black, in the 1980s. Photo Credit: Kip-koech

His comments opened a Pandora’s Box of controversy surrounding the Lakers ownership and who is actually in control of the organization.

This situation worsened when Lakers’ primary owner, Jeanie Buss, commented.  Let’s look at how Jeanie Buss’s actions added to the PR-crisis. 

Buss did not reassure fans of her abilities as a owner.

Jeanie Buss’s tweet in response to Johnson’s announcement. Photo Credit: Jeanie Buss

Instead of making it clear that she was unaware of Johnson’s leave, Buss posted  loving message to Johnson on Twitter.

Johnson called Buss’s ownership abilities into question when he left the organization, and Buss’s lack of response does not help fans feel any sort of validation in her ownership ability.

Buss had others make the statement. 

Many people have speculated that LeBron James has been making the Lakers’ ownership decisions. This rumor was not hushed when James commented about Johnson’s sudden announcement, calling it a distraction from the team that was still finishing its season.

Buss has not stopped communication with Johnson.

Buss posted with Johnson on May 2, 2019. Photo Credits: Jeanie Buss

While maintaining a relationship between the Lakers and Johnson is important, Buss should also be making it clear that Johnson is no longer involved in the Lakers’ operation.

Their relationship is also one-sided as Johnson has continued to make comments critiquing the Lakers’ ownership. 

By continuing to share loving posts with Johnson, Buss presents also the argument that perhaps she still needs his leadership and guidance. 

Buss did not provide stability for the organization.

Three days after Johnson left, the Lakers “mutually parted ways” with head coach Luke Walton. The one thing that the Lakers needed was stability, and Buss just continued to make others question her ability as a leader and drew further attention to the organization as a whole.

Additionally, there have been rumors that the Lakers will not hire a new president of basketball operations. Because of this job opening, there is more instability in the organization.

I need to take a breather. Ok. So, as a PR professional, what can you do to extinguish this fire?  Well, I have a few recommendations:

  • Make the primary decision maker known.
    • The Lakers’ PR team needs to end this gossip by clarifying who is in control of the organization. Jeanie Buss should be the appointed lead, but even if she’s not, the organization needs to seem professional and organized.
  • Separate Johnson from decision makers.
    • By still portraying a perfect relationship with Johnson, Buss makes others think that she is sort of oblivious to the situation and calls into question her leadership abilities.
  • Prevent further damage.
    • Johnson is keeping this crisis in the news by continuing to make comments to the media. The Lakers need to come to an agreement with him to end these comments. By giving the situation some space, the media can hopefully calm down and move on.
  • Provide stability. 
    • Hire well-known names and make fans feel comfortable with where the organization is headed. With all the trade rumors and leadership questions, it is important to make fans know that the organization is in good hands.

What do you think the Lakers’ PR team should do in response to this crisis? Let me know in the comments.

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