Jerry Buss’s LA life

Posted: February 19, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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Jerry Buss won an NBA title in his first year as an owner and in his 31st. In between his teams won eight other championships, appeared in 14 other Finals and only missed the playoffs twice. The numbers themselves form the best resume of any owner in sports history. But Jerry Buss’s Lakers were never simply about the results. They had movie stars watching basketball stars, dramas and controversies, feuds and tragedies. And most importantly they had a style that defined the franchise. Showtime didn’t simply describe a Magic Johnson-led fastbreak — it captured what the Lakers were all about.

Showtime ended on the court when Magic retired, even if the title-winning ways eventually continued. Now, with Buss’s death following a lengthy battle with cancer, the era that started in 1979 truly is over. No one knows what comes next, off the court or on. The on-court success is anything but guaranteed and for the first time in 34 years there are doubts about the judgment and instincts of the man in the owner’s box. It’s worth remembering what Buss accomplished — not just because of the unparalleled accomplishments, but because the level of success might never be seen again, in LA or anywhere else.

Buss needed a few great people around him and a lot of luck. Who could have guessed that no-name Pat Riley would go from assistant to all-time coach, just a few years after starring as the mute partner to Chick Hearn on Lakers broadcasts? Who could have guessed a high school guard taken 13th in the draft would go on to become one of the 10 best players in NBA history?

He didn’t always make the right decisions and he wasn’t infallible, as anyone who remembers the Randy Pfund era will attest. He went with Kurt Rambis in 1999 and Rudy Tomjanovich in 2004 and neither move worked. But when they didn’t, he twice quickly gave in and brought in the greatest coach of them all, Phil Jackson, to fix the mess. Titles followed both times.

He didn’t meddle much — he was no Jerry Jones or Steinbrenner — but on the big decisions he made the big calls and his choices helped sustain a dynasty. The Shaq-Kobe feud finally came to an end in 2004, after Buss picked Kobe, a decision that brought a lot of criticism and ridicule, particularly after Shaq helped the Heat win the 2006 title. But when Pau Gasol came to LA in 2008 — there’s a little bit of that luck again — Kobe again had his No. 2 man and the Lakers would win two more titles.

Buss always looked like he was having more fun than anyone in the arena, which was certainly easier to do when the scoreboard was almost always in his favor. There’s a famous shot of him celebrating after his first title in 1980 and 30 years later the same grinned appeared on an older face after the Lakers defeated the Celtics in Game 7 at Staples Center. Even more famous? The pictures of Buss surrounded by countless young women, whether it was in the ’80s, ’90s or 21st century. Over the years the girls’ hair got smaller and their breasts bigger. Yet somehow it worked in LA, with the Lakers — it seems impossible to picture the owner of, say, the Bucks or Celtics getting away with the same dating routines.

On ESPN Monday, Magic said Buss was a common-man owner who had time for all of the fans. That’s the Buss most basketball fans knew, but as Bill Simmons wrote on Grantland, his behind-the-scenes actions were even more respected. Other owners trusted Buss, no matter their market size. He had the ability to break down complex problems and solve them with seemingly simple solutions. Whether it was about revenue sharing or choosing one superstar over another, Buss had the best track record going. His instincts were as crucial as his wallet.

That’s gone now — for the NBA and the Lakers. Jerry’s son Jim takes over the basketball side of operations now and however much confidence fans and insiders had in the old man, that’s how little they have in the heir. Maybe Jerry didn’t make the right call when it comes to the Lakers’ future. His kids won’t live up to his legacy. Then again, how could they, when their dad left behind the greatest ownership record of them all?

  1. Rich Jensen says:

    Tragedy? C’mon man. What tragedy, aside from Magic’s early retirement and subsequent coaching stint? Get back to me when you’ve got people dying.

  2. Rich Jensen says:

    Ah Kwame Brown…. Those were the good ol’ days for Lakers haters….. “Hey Buss, you kept the wrong star!” Sigh.

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