On Monday, the NBA lost one of its most influential members when Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss died from kidney failure as a result of a long battle with cancer. He was 80. It was a loss that will reach far further than Laker Nation. Buss was a visionary who helped the league surge into the power we see today. Buss did everything he could to put his team in a position to win, but did not act in a manner that alienated himself from anyone. He was highly respected by his peers as not only a basketball genius who always spoke fairly and intelligently, but also as a good person willing to listen and advise. Whether you love or hate the Lakers, you couldn't say anything bad about Buss.
Buss earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Southern California in 1957. He worked in aerospace and real estate development before taking all of his real estate earnings to purchase the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and the Forum from Jack Kent Cook for $67.5 million in 1979. It may be hard to believe, but this was seen as a bad investment at the time as all the ventures were losing money. Buss, however, had a vision and the rest is history.
Among the innovations attributed to Buss are his role in bringing live coverage of NBA games as opposed to the tape delayed versions customary at the time, selling the naming rights of the Forum to Great Western Bank, establishing a television contract to bring Lakers coverage to basic cable, the Laker girls, the building of the state of the art Staples Center, and much more. Who can forget Showtime. It was much more than the entertaining fast paced play of the Lakers. It was almost a lifestyle. Buss’s role in introducing the world to Showtime was instrumental in the rise of the NBA as well. The Lakers are now one of the most expensive sports franchises in the world worth well over a billion dollars. They are synonymous with class, prestige, and winning.
Buss is the most successful owner in NBA history and just may carry the title as best owner in all of sports. During his 33 year tenure as owner, the Lakers made the playoffs in 31 seasons. That in its self is remarkable. The Lakers won the Western Conference Championship 16 times. That's right, the Lakers made the finals almost 50% of the time. The Lakers added in ten championships during that span as well. It is hard to imagine those numbers ever being duplicated by anyone again.
I grew up as a Lakers fan. As a child, I watched the Lakers raise a few Championship banners with teams coached by Pat Riley and led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar along with James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis and others. As I got older, I was able to watch a new guard led by Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox and others directed by Phil Jackson. Most recently Jackson, Bryant, and Fisher were back again, this time with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Metta World Peace, Andrew Bynum and others. To say it was and is an honor to be a Lakers fan is a severe understatement.
All of Laker Nation had Dr. Buss to thank for these great times. It was not only his willingness to spend the money, but the trust he had in the people he hired to do their jobs. He cared and loved the team, but never got in the way. He made the franchise the most attractive destination for players in the NBA. He was a down to earth person who was as great to his friends as he was to the fans of his franchise. He will be sorely missed.
Thanks for everything Dr. Buss. You were one of a kind and we would have it no other way. You were the greatest owner is sports. You accomplished your goal. When we think of L.A., we will think of the Lakers.