Former equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas lost his job two years ago after 26 years with the Lakers. Jim Buss might have considered him too close to Phil Jackson.
Rudy Garciduenas was one of the most sturdy and respected links on the Lakers' food chain. Today he works in a food truck.
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 has seven NBA championship rings — one more than Michael Jordan, two more than Kobe Bryant — yet he never wears one to work.
What Garciduenas did before made him almost as much a part of Lakers lore as Jack Nicholson or free tacos. With his constant appearances around the court to deal with problems such as deflated basketballs and torn socks — he actually sat on the bench during road games — this short, round guy with a goatee became as recognizable as some of the players, with a job that was often as difficult.
"I guess I was part camp counselor, part parent," he said.
"We all love Rudy, all of us; you can't find a single person who doesn't love the guy," Lakers spokesman John Black said.
Yet two summers ago, on the eve of the NBA owners' lockout and shortly after the retirement of Jackson, Garciduenas received a letter giving the details of COBRA temporary health insurance. The next day, General Manager Mitch Kupchak summoned him to his office to confirm that he was being released as a cost-saving measure.
"The atmosphere there was changing," Garciduenas said. "I felt like there wasn't a lot of people I could trust."
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.
"It was a sad experience, it was a part of my life that was hard to let go, but now, with this truck, I feel like I've been given a breath of fresh air," he said. "The Lakers were very good to me for a very long time, and I never want to forget that."
Garciduenas even showed up at last week's memorial service for Jerry Buss. He blamed him for none of this. He knows that the recent change in the Lakers' culture has nothing to do with the man who once created it.
"Dr. Buss was at the top, I was at the bottom, yet every day we saw each other, we exchanged salutations," Garciduenas said. "I wanted to show my immense respect for a man who respected everyone."
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Amazing read. Cannot believe the lengths Jim Buss went because of his disdain for Phil.