Monday, February 18, 2013
Farewell, Dr. Buss.
Dr. Jerry Buss died early this morning. I still can't believe it ended so quickly. Just a few days ago I saw he was going into the hospital, and I was really worried.
Suddenly, boom, it's over. The greatest owner I've ever known is out like a light. What does Jerry Buss mean for Los Angeles? Confidence, Craft, and Style. Like a Maverick out of the Old West, Dr. Buss came out here by way of Wyoming and purchased parcels of land, only to take up the Lakers, Kings, and the Forum from Jack Kent Cooke.
Cooke meant well and always wanted success, but like no one before him, Jerry took the Lakers to an entirely new level. He went and made the Lakers an event. Laker Girls, the dance troupe, started in the 1980's under his watch. Now every team has a dancing troupe. In fact, even the stodgy Celtics organization caved after several centuries and got a dance team.
People would talk about how Mark Cuban infused a whole culture of sparing no expense in the name of winning. Yet, even Cuban himself admits that Jerry Buss had him beat 30 years ago with his manner of formulating the best team money could buy, and even after the salary cap started, Dr. Buss continued to work within the NBA's parameters to bring the biggest free agents alive.
It's truly remarkable how much Buss meant winning. He didn't just win on the court, but he won in the media, the press, numerous charities and schools throughout the area, and would you believe, at the poker table? Let's be honest: he was a hit with the ladies too!
For Dr. Buss, the math tells the story: Ten championships, playoff appearances in every season except three: 1994, 2005, and this year (yeah, I'm adding it). More than that, his heart was unlike any other owner you can imagine in the NBA. Who else would treat all of their players like they were family, from the guy fighting for the 12th roster spot to their highest played player. Fitting that the Lakers would wear the Royal Forum Blue and Gold, as everyone in that organization were treated like kings.
Remarkably, even despite all of his lavish spending and enormous contracts, the man himself kept a relatively low profile. Most times, when he'd accept one of many championship trophies, the first words out of his mouth were about how much it means for the *city* of Los Angeles. Many, and I mean many, people around the NBA and the sports world regarded Dr. Buss as a warm heart and I have yet to hear anyone say anything... ANYTHING about his personality that would suggest jelousy, vindiction or the like.
He was a family man too. He kept all of his children involved within the Lakers' basketball operations. Fortunately, many earned their stripes, including Jeanie Buss, who continues to be a business superstar with the Lakers and their marketing.
Without Dr. Buss, the Lakers would not be the Worldwide Brand we know today. Without him the Lakers, even with Magic Johnson, could not have had the momentum to win five championships in the 80's, beating the Celtics in the process.
THAT was Chapter One. One might think the changing economics of the NBA might pass him by, but no! No sooner than 1996, did Dr. Buss usher a new era going after *the* biggest free agent of the decade: Shaquille O'Neal. Once again, L.A. was in business.
Even as the emotional ties were disintegrating in the Lakers locker room, Dr. Buss threw in another Hail Mary from 3/4 court -- the hire of Phil Jackson. This became a particularly tough hire in light of the eventual romance between Jackson and his daughter Jeannie. Yet, he carried on with the move in the name of winning. Soon thereafter, the Lakers piled up another five titles over roughly 12 seasons.
Through it all, Buss had *style.* He was never petty or took anything too personally. He wouldn't get into enormous wars with the media. He went about things his own way, for the team and about the team, and those acts alone made him a bigger name without having to announce it.
Grace, intensity, style, warmth, and class. I can't imagine there ever being another Dr. Jerry Buss. Unparalleled success for his Lakers in the NBA. We can only hope that the Lakers and the Buss family can duplicate even *half* this success in the next 30 years. Los Angeles won't ever be the same.
Thank you, Dr. Buss. Farewell.