A strong case can be made that Dr. Jerry Buss, who passed away last week at the age of 80, was the greatest owner in team sports, and not because the Lakers won 10 NBA titles in 16 Finals appearances since 1979 when he purchased the team for $16 million.
Buss was a visionary, who saw things big and small long before others did, and was smart enough to act upon them.
The impact Buss had on Los Angeles was enormous, and it carried to other NBA cities.
An example of the Buss acumen was his desire to put the Lakers, currently valued at $1 billion, on cable television, which every team now does.
Buss, who made his fortune in real estate and was an accomplished poker player, realized the value of entertainment, and to that end wanted cheerleaders, and so the Laker girls were born.
Most important, Buss, who earned a Ph. D. in physical chemistry from USC, wanted an exciting brand of basketball that employed a “run-and-gun” style offense which became known as “Showtime,” and featured Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Earvin “Magic’’ Johnson.
Though the Lakers were owned by Jack Kent Cooke when Johnson was drafted after leading Michigan State to the NCAA title over Indiana State and Larry Bird, it was done in large part because Buss saw Johnson’s incredible talent and engaging personality.
Aside from leading the Lakers to five NBA crowns in the 1980’s, Johnson and Bird, a forward for the Boston Celtics, would help bring the NBA back to prominence and salvage the two most storied teams in the league.
At last Thursday’s memorial service at the Nokia Theatre, friends, family, entertainers, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and players, all paid tribute to Buss.
Pat Riley, a one-time Lakers’ player, analyst, and head coach, was eloquent. “Jerry Buss was us as much as we were Jerry,’’ said Riley. “Showtime was the in-between. The elixir of our lives that made us all smile together was the game. The one constant was that we were all Lakers through and through, forever. There was great pride fueled by this incredible passion to win, and to do it in a way no one has ever done it before. That was Jerry’s dream, and it came true.”
Jerry West was emotional at times, but spoke from the heart. “In 1979 I met a man that was truly unique,’’ said West, a Hall of Fame guard, and later head coach and general manager with the Lakers. “Different, but a good different. Little did I know that this man would make an impact on my life that I didn’t dream possible. He was a man for all people. Even when he was having his great successes, he was the most humble, unique man I’ve ever been around.”
West added: “But one thing that Jerry Buss knew was what he wanted from the team. At one of the first meetings I had with him he said he wanted people to come see a winning basketball team. But I want entertainment very much like a Broadway play. He not only changed basketball, but all sports. He left a shadow over the entire sports world.”
Abdul-Jabbar spoke how Buss helped procure talent in order to keep the Lakers on top.
“Jerry changed the face of professional basketball,’’ he said, “by making it possible to bring in players like myself, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kobe Bryant to play to our potential and bring championship trophies to Los Angeles.”
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.