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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jerry Buss: Championship or Bust

"Championship or bust." That is how Kobe Bryant describes the mindset of Jerry Buss, who owned the L.A. Lakers for more than 30 years before passing away Monday morning. One could make a strong case that Buss is the most successful team owner in sports history; under his direction the Lakers won 10 championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88, 2000-02, 2009-10)--more than any other NBA owner has won--and the organization blossomed into an empire worth more than $1 billion: that combination of on-court success and financial success is rare, if not unprecedented.

As usual, Kevin Ding provides an informed take:

Buss' 10 NBA championships--while missing the playoffs only twice in 33 seasons--are patently absurd. He blended Hollywood glamour with great basketball, which is why he could be given a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 2006 for television advancements and be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 as a contributor to the sport.

With savvy decisions that played out both inside and outside of the arena, Buss seemed always the smartest and most daring guy in the room.

That includes the high-stakes poker room, his most recent passion that challenged him to match wits with the best professional poker players in the world. Buss' intelligence was applicable in a variety of realms: He started out a graduate of the University of Wyoming with a degree in chemistry, believing education would be his springboard to whatever else he could imagine.

The L.A. Times' Bill Dwyre eloquently describes a side of Jerry Buss that most people did not see:

We live in an era of soulless corporations and heartless management. People are laid off by email or by discovering the lock changed on their office door.

In Buss' corporation, there was always heart and soul. 

(P.R. consultant Bob) Steiner's daughter, Cathy, is developmentally disabled. She is also a huge Lakers fan, of course, and used to sit in Buss' box with her dad at games and keep score. She used the game program to do so.

But somewhere along the line, an order had come to the ushers that the game programs need not be distributed in the boss' box until he arrived. Invariably, Buss would be delayed by pregame duties, and one time, he didn't make it into his box until near halftime. When he arrived, Cathy let him know that she would have no more of these delays, that she needed her program before the game started. 

To which Jerry Buss replied meekly: "I will take care of it, Cathy."

And he did. 

"Jerry was sensational with her," Steiner says. 

He was the same with thousands of other people.

Various people affiliated with the NBA expressed their love and admiration for Dr. Buss:
  1. Magic Johnson: "This is a great loss for the Laker Nation--1st the legendary Chick Hearn and now my 2nd dad, the beloved Dr. Jerry Buss. I LOVE you Dr. Buss! All Dr. Buss ever wanted to do was win and he did. Dr. Buss won 10 Championships--5 with me as a player and 5 with me as his partner."
  2. Derek Fisher: "He forever changed my life. May he rest in peace and my prayers are with his family that he loved so much."
  3. NBA Commissioner David Stern described Dr. Buss as a "visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come."
  4. Shaquille O'Neal, who did not always see eye to eye with Dr. Buss, issued this statement: "I'm deeply saddened over the loss of the great Dr. Jerry Buss. He was a dear friend, keen mentor and brilliant businessman. He'll always be remembered for his dedication in bringing the best to the purple and gold and I'm proud to have been part of his honorable legacy. My heart and prayers go out to the Buss family and friends. Dr. Buss will be deeply missed by this big man."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:28 AM

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