|Bonnie-Jill Laflin scouts for the Lakers, but is available for acting and modeling. (Sports Illustrated)|
What, exactly, are the qualifications for an NBA scout?
Strong dance moves? A dazzling smile? A voluptuous body? Teleprompter skills?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin is a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, a perplexing assignment for a drop-dead gorgeous woman of 32 who played high school ball, then spent the next decade as an NFL cheerleader, a model, an actress, and a sports broadcaster.
She landed in the Lakers' front office performing various TV duties for the team, as well as for ESPN, until Lakers owner Jerry Buss promoted her to scout two years ago, just before the NBA's predraft camp, and also named her assistant GM of the Lakers' Developmental League team, the D-Fenders. Buss, it seems, wanted to do something different and sent Laflin out to scout college players. A stunner.
It is the job of a scout to evaluate and compare every player they watch, using current and past NBA players as a standard. Laflin readily admits she has no basketball cred - yet. She admits she got the job because Buss is a family friend, for whom her father once acted as bodyguard. But she also insists this is what she always wanted to do - manage a team - and that given the choice, she would take managing the Lakers over the lead role in a feature film without thinking twice. She spent her childhood talking sports with her dad, an undercover narcotics officer in San Francisco, and those conversations left her comfortable and content in a world of professional sports run by men.
But the thing is, Laflin has a website with sexy, some raunchy, pictures of herself in various states of undress. Model/actress stuff. She has appeared in Maxim and FHM men's magazines, in movies such as "Whipped" and "Cruel Game", and television shows from "Ally McBeal" to "Baywatch".
And though she said she has left that life behind, she has not taken down the website, and just shrugged when asked about it.
She is still available for modeling and acting.
"If it's the right role or shoot, that the Lakers approve of, I will consider it," she said.
Laflin seems to be caught between the celebrity stylings of life as an actress/model in Southern California, and the desire to be credible in the sports world. Still, walking across the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in denim capris and a black tank top with "LAKERS" twinkling across her chest in rhinestones, she looks more like Laker Girl than Laker scout. She said Jeannie Buss, daughter of the owner, is a role model.
"Basically, the Buss family, Jeannie Buss [executive VP, business operations] said, 'I really would like to have a female working as a scout to try it out,' " Laflin explained. "And they tried me out and they liked my work, they liked my scouting reports, and kind of the rest is history.
"Every time I go to a game it's just more and more that I learn from the different scouts around me and it's nice because they've kind of taken me under their wing. The thing that Jeannie likes is there's something I'll pick up that maybe a male won't pick up, like the chemistry between a player and a coach or his teammates. Little things that I think make a big difference. You don't want a kid on your team that's a nut case. Stuff like that makes me a little more unique when I scout."
Former Celtic Brian Shaw was scouting for the Lakers when Laflin joined the staff, and he was one of her teachers, showing her how to fill out a scouting card, and pointing out what to look for in young players.
"When I was showing her around, I was introducing her to people as our girl scout," said Shaw, now an assistant coach with the Lakers.
The term was apparently Dr. Buss's idea.
"I even brought a friend of mine, Gerald Wilkins, who I used to play with in Orlando," Shaw said, "and we sat down at dinner and talked about how she wouldn't be taken seriously in the job and that the only way that she could be . . . that doesn't really matter, if people don't take her seriously - but the bottom line is if you want some credibility, you have to know your craft and know what you're doing.
"So we fired questions at her back and forth about basketball, about what she saw that day at the session we went to, and then kind of critiqued her.
"I said if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be able to recite this stuff right off the top, and know what you're talking about and be confident. Because the bottom line is a lot of people are going to say, 'You're a pretty girl - your looks and whatever your relationship is with the owner is the reason why you were put in this position.'
"I also mentioned to her there were a lot of Jayne Kennedys that came way before that were kind of in that same position. You can diffuse all of that by knowing what you're talking about and being good at your job.
"It's a process, and the only way you can get good at it is you have to immerse yourself in it, be around it all the time, and soak it all up."
Shaw said because he is coaching now and not scouting, he has not been around Laflin very much, and doesn't know how she's faring.
Well, she hasn't been fired and the D-Fenders reached the second round of the NBDL playoffs, but Laflin still is not listed in the Lakers' media guide. Earnest and charming in conversation, Laflin is well aware that the saucy pictures and the cheerleading history trail her like toilet paper stuck to her shoe. There is no one she works with who will not take a look and possibly giggle.
One team official, asked to help locate Laflin during a Lakers offday practice at TD Banknorth Garden said, "Oh? Is she even here?"
Laflin, who reports to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss as assistant GM of the D-Fenders, said it was an error that she wasn't listed in the media guide but said she is in the "Lakers directory guide under scouts" as well as the D-Fenders' media guide. She has participated in the last two predraft camps with the Lakers' scouting staff, she is included in the war room for the draft, and she said her colleagues are beginning to listen to her observations about prospects.
Also confusing is her claim, via her website and publicist, that she is the first and only female NBA scout. Not so.
Jenny Boucek held that position for the SuperSonics, doing advance scouting (of other professional teams) for Seattle when she was an assistant with the WNBA's Seattle Storm. Ann Myers Drysdale, one of the best-known female players of all time, is the GM for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, and vice president of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, and has scouted for the Suns.
One thing is certain: It's an improbable story, with Bonnie-Jill Laflin playing the lead role.
Barbara Matson can be reached at email@example.com.