L.A. Lakers lose leader, NBA community remembers titan

BY THOMAS ROSS ’14
Staff Writer

On Feb. 18, the National Basketball Association (NBA) lost the most revered owner in league history, Dr. Jerry Buss, who won 10 NBA championships throughout his tenure as the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. He ushered in a new era of basketball, which he famously coined “ShowTime.” Dr. Buss had a vision for L.A, which included the Lakers and a lot of winning, but for Buss, simply winning was not enough: the games had to be entertaining, and thus ShowTime was born.

It should come as no surprise that as Dr. Buss became ill and unfit to run the Lakers, front office repercussions were felt throughout the organization. L.A. went into the all-star break with an abysmal 25-29 record, trailing the Clippers by a staggering 13 games. After becoming ill, Dr. Buss gave the reins of the franchise over to his son, mostly for personal reasons and not because of his high basketball I.Q. Jim Buss, Jerry’s son, has endured quite a bit of criticism for how he went about hiring a coach earlier this season and for not bringing back the legendary Phil Jackson. His tenure as the Lakers CEO has been short and he has much to prove to live up to his father’s legacy. However, that is all for another day. Today, we celebrate the life of Jerry Buss.

Buss was a philanthropic playboy billionaire, intelligent and poised, who was second to none in every category. He is regarded both as the most influential owner in NBA history and, alongside George Steinbrenner, amongst the greatest team owners in the history of sports.

The average individual doesn’t realize how much influence the owners of sports franchises have and how important they can be to an entire city. There are 30 NBA franchises with 30 owners who essentially coordinate the landscape of the NBA. Commissioner David Stern and his understudy, Adam Silver, essentially carry out the owners’ wishes — it is Stern and Silver who work for the owners, not the other way around. People involved in the meetings of the owners throughout the years said Jerry could stay quiet for hours, observing others, and somehow, before the meeting finished, it was Dr. Buss who had made the most significant contribution to the discussion.

During Dr. Buss’s tenure, the experience of attending a Laker home game was like no other in sports. The Lakers have had the most attractive cheerleaders of any team and, instead of playing famous rap music at the games, rappers would actually be in the audience. Everyone appeared dressed to go clubbing rather than a basketball game, and the fans would respectfully cheer and boo at the right moments; these people were actually quite interested in the game for being an over-the-top, lush, and eccentric fan base.

Despite his creation of a unique game experience, the single most influential aspect of Dr. Buss’ tenure was his ability to recognize star power. Michael Jordan had just hit the scene when Buss realized it was possible for the name on the back of the jersey to actually be more influential than the name on the front. Buss embraced this aspect of the game and gave Magic, Kareem, and Worthy the keys to drive his vehicle, knowing the Lakers and ShowTime were only going as far as its biggest stars could take them. Dr. Buss made stars feel like they were part of the organization’s decision-making process. Free agents wanted to play for the Lakers because of Dr. Jerry Buss.

The last move Dr. Buss had his fingerprints on was the acquisition of one Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. When it became clear Dwight wanted out of Orlando, everybody around the NBA just assumed he would land in L.A because that’s what the Lakers do: they acquire stars and make them into celebrities, giving them jewelry (championship rings), front-page press, and a whole lot of swagger.

Laker fans are asking a whole lot of Jim Buss to duplicate his father’s success. But that’s exactly what Laker fans should demand. A city without a football team puts all of its chips on the Lakers because that’s all it has. For the last 34 years, the Lakers have had an owner who bled purple and gold just as its fan base does.

Probably the most famous quote by Jerry Buss was what he said after the Lakers won the championship in 2010.

“One of the biggest reasons I bought the Lakers was to beat the Celtics.”

If you understand the history of the rivalry and the greatness of Jerry Buss, it was a storybook ending to have the Lakers play the Celtics in their first game coming out of the all-star break and absolutely dominate them in all facets of the game. The Lakers appeared to be a different team on Thursday night versus the Celtics, reminiscent of ShowTime and the possibility of turning their season around. The only questions that remain are one, will the Lakers make the playoffs, and two, will Dr. Jerry Buss’ final move bring more championships to L.A?

Questions? Email Thomas at tross@fandm.edu.

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