February 21, 2013
When ranking the sports team owners in American professional sports, it is not much of a contest, because Jerry Buss, who recently passed away, has every other owner beat by a mile, including New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.
Many people say that the Yankees are the premiere team in American sports, mostly because their history of greatness dates back to the early 1900s, but in the modern era it is not even close. The Lakers, mostly because of the vision of Buss, has been the greatest franchise in any sport.
Since Buss purchased the Lakers in 1979, the Lakers have made it to the NBA Finals 16 times, which is nearly half of the years that Buss owned the team. They won the title 10 times, more than any other American professional sports team over that time period. Under Steinbrenner, who owned the Yankees from 1973 until his passing, the ball club won seven World Series titles in 11 appearances.
Buss took a team that was one of the better teams in the NBA and turned them into the greatest pro team in the nation. When he took over the Lakers were not even the best team in town. Los Angeles was a Dodgers town. USC football and UCLA basketball were a lot more popular, as the Lakers had lost seven times in the NBA Finals from the time that they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960 until Buss bought the team. All of those losses came against the Celtics, and the Lakers had only won the NBA title once over that time period, in 1972.
When Buss took over the Celtics had 13 NBA titles compared to the Lakers six (five of those won in Minneapolis), and it did not seem like any team would ever come close to catching them. But since Buss took over the Lakers have defeated the Celtics three times in the NBA Finals, won 10 overall, and now they are only behind the Celtics by one championship (17-16).
Former Laker Tommy Hawkins remembers the Dodgers receiving a parade in Downtown when they moved to Los Angeles in 1958, but when the Lakers showed up two years later, they came in on a bus through San Bernadino and nobody knew who they were.
Before Buss bought the team the Lakers were always lost in the shuffle of the Los Angeles sporting scene. But he instantly changed that.
Buss' first move was to create Showtime, and that was not just on the court. He understood that in Los Angeles, just watching a game would not be enough to captivate people who are in the "Entertainment Capitol of the World." Buss created an environment that the Hollywood stars wanted to be at. Laker games were the place to be, not just for celebrities, but for the masses.
Buss created a show, but at the same time, that was not going to hold people's attention for long. Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that dancing girls were not going to win games. The show was not just during timeouts, or before and after the game. The main attraction was the players, and Buss stopped at nothing to get the best.
One thing that separated Buss from other owners who will stop at nothing to win was that Buss knew his role, and he let others do their jobs. Bill Sharman and Jerry West built the rosters that became Showtime. They surrounded Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar with other star players. They took the risk on drafting James Worthy over Dominique Wilkins. They took the risk to trade Norm Nixon in order to draft Byron Scott. And to trade Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant, who was right out of high school. That was a major risk because Shaquille O'Neal had not signed with the team at that point, and there was no telling if he would come to Los Angeles.
Buss also allowed O'Neal to be traded, and he convinced Bryant that he should be a Laker forever, which resulted into two more championships.
Buss' efforts and his visions have given Los Angeles fans the best team in the modern era of sports. The only thing that it looks like Buss will miss out on is when the Lakers finally catch, and pass, the Celtics in total titles.