It remains an underreported story, especially in the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers breaking (or even demolishing) the bank in terms of player payroll this season. In anticipation of a long lockout in 2011, the team fired off almost 20 longtime staff members, not counting the departing coaching staff, with rumors abounding that executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss was making a point to remove anyone overtly associated with former coach Phil Jackson – the man that Buss has since passed over to lead his disappointing Laker squad. Much needed scouts, staff, and assistant GM Ronnie Lester were let go by a Laker team that didn’t feel the need to communicate and explain exactly why they were being fired.
Rudy Garciduenas, who worked in the Lakers’ locker room for 26 years, was one of those casualties. Let go by the team in the summer of 2011, Garciduenas has taken to working out of a food truck in Los Angeles, driving and cooking for Sam Choy’s Pineapple Express. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke recently caught up with Garciduenas to get his side of the story:
Garciduenas, who was laid off in June 2011 with nearly 20 other longtime employees, including training staff members and an assistant general manager, learned of his departure when he received a letter about temporary insurance. He received no severance pay. There was no farewell party. He spent the next year living off unemployment and retirement funds.
He came close to selling some of his valuable Lakers memorabilia to make ends meet but finally worked his way into this truck. On a recent afternoon on a narrow Hollywood street surrounded by post-production studios, Garciduenas could be found serving lunch to a long line of office workers with his same trademark Lakers smile and good humor, one bit of his Lakers past missing.
He has seven NBA championship rings — one more than Michael Jordan, two more than Kobe Bryant — yet he never wears one to work.
"I'd rather not end up with teriyaki sauce all over them," he said.
It should be pointed out, as Plaschke does, that Garciduenas was given the chance to re-interview for the job he held for over a quarter century with the team as the lockout ended. Garciduenas asked for a guarantee pre-interview that he would be given a guarantee that the demeaning process would result in his old job. The Lakers, a franchise team spokesman John Black claims that doesn’t employ “a single person who doesn't love [Rudy],” declined, so Garciduenas passed on the interview. Plaschke noted that he was fired officially by FedEx soon after.
All this seems more than needless for a team that doesn’t seem to mind paying the biggest luxury tax bill in the NBA, and two coaches at a time this year in Mike D’Antoni and the fired Mike Brown.
Of course, there’s no direct line to connect the dots here, but Plaschke writes what a lot of us are thinking when it comes to the post-Phil sweep in his feature:
The Lakers' Black said the organization does not comment on personnel matters, but several of the fired employees — including fired assistant coach Brian Shaw — have since said that it appeared new basketball boss Jim Buss wanted to release anyone who was closely associated with Jackson. Buss has openly questioned the methods of Jackson, who has won a record 11 NBA championships and who also happens to be engaged to Buss' sister Jeanie.
"I felt that maybe people associated with Phil were not welcome there anymore," Garciduenas agreed.
All of this is so sad and pointless, and while the Lakers are not under any obligation to keep these longtime employees around, the odd switch in staff for a team with a $100 million player payroll just feels unnecessary and disproportionate. Especially with 23-year old Jesse Buss and Jim’s pal “Chaz” taking on prominent roles in the scouting department around the same time.
We don’t know all the facts behind this breakup, and it’s true that Garciduenas was given a chance to re-interview for his old job and declined. Still, stories like this keep adding up, and the Los Angeles Lakers remain a strange, strange franchise.