Feb 18, 2013, 11:42 AM EDT
Jerry Buss may have been in a hospital bed more than a thousand miles away, but his fingerprints were all over NBA All-Star weekend in Houston. There were Alicia Keys and Ne-Yo performing their music, more celebrities than there were seats courtside, there were dancers and entertainers during timeouts and between quarters. And there was some good basketball on the court (well, for an All-Star Game).
Jerry Buss changed the NBA to look more like that. He was the first owner to really embrace that he was not just putting together a team, he was marketing basketball. He understood that the steak needed sizzle.
Buss purchased the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67 million (that price included the Fabulous Forum arena, the NHL’s Kings and a ranch). Forbes estimated the Lakers worth recently at just over $1 billion. So you can add “smart business man” to the list of things he did.
What many basketball fans will remember him for is winning — the Lakers won 10 NBA titles under his ownership and made it to the finals 13 times. They produced legends of the game such as Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, plus welcomed others such as Shaquille O’Neal. Under Buss’ watch the Lakers grew into the center of the Los Angeles sports universe, and one of the most recognized brands in all of sport.
But where Buss was truly an innovator was off the court.
Back in 1979 most NBA owners treated basketball as, well, basketball. You came to the game, there was nothing else. Buss understood what he had purchased was an entertainment enterprise that sold basketball. He bought the steak, what he needed to add was sizzle.
First in came the Laker Girls, the first dance team unit in the league. Next was Dancing Barry — a guy in top hat and tails who would dance through the crown during timeouts, which seems quaint now but was a revolution in entertainment back in the day. Soon music was being pumped through the arena during breaks. Nobody else was doing that, but Buss started putting on a show with basketball at the heart of it.
Buss made Lakers games the coolest place to be seen in L.A., and the celebrities flocked (and still do). Buss established the Forum Club so celebrities had a place to throw back a few cocktails (and plenty of drugs, if we’re going to be honest) before, after and during the game. When they left the club those celebrities sat in very visible courtside seats. Jerry Buss lived that lifestyle, too — he was always seen with a beautiful young woman on his arm. He was part of the scene.
None of it would have worked if the team stunk, but in the Lakers first draft after Buss bought the team they got the No. 1 pick and selected Magic Johnson. He and Buss were a perfect fit — Magic wanted to entertain and had a bigger-than-life personality on the court. It was Showtime and it was fun to watch — plus they won. A lot. It was a captivating era of the NBA that lifted the league out of a time in the 1970s when NBA finals games were taped delayed and shown at midnight.
“The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”
Mark Cuban has talked about what he did in Dallas to turn around what had been one of the worst franchises in the NBA was based in part on what Buss did. Today, every team — even the Boston Celtics — has dance teams. Every team pumps in the music in time outs.
Every team sells sizzle with the steak. And they can thank Dr. Buss for that.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Miami also reportedly talking Shabazz Napier trade
Jul 7, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Sounds as if San Antonio will use room exception on Ginobili, which helps the cause for re-signing Tim Duncan
Jul 7, 2015, 8:54 PM EDT
Even without stretching Wallace, that projects to be about $24 million in savings
Jul 7, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT
Villanueva will back up Dirk Nowitzki as floor-spreading power forward
Jul 7, 2015, 6:46 PM EDT
Clippers having a nice offseason – minus that one move that defines their offseason
Jul 7, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
The one-year deal keeps their cap space alive next summer to chase Kevin Durant.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Dallas had a good July, too.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The Knicks and Magic essentially swap reserve centers.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
“Listen, we had one priority this summer, and that was to re-sign DJ, and we missed out on that.” — J.J. Redick on the Clippers summer.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
The Bulls are getting the band back together.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
The Lakers were not free agency losers like some think.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
Look for the Warriors to waive Wallace using the stretch provision.
Jul 7, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Julius Randle, L.A.’s first round pick last year, missed the Summer League opener due to a contract issue.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
Exum looked great, the injury did not.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year signed a free agent deal with the Lakers.
Dwyane Wade cites his scoring average when asked how long he’ll continue to play: ‘I think I’ll stay around a while’
Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Wade was the third leading scorer in the East last season, but missed 20 games due to a combination rest and injury.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:31 AM EDT
Teams aren’t allowed to discuss deals during the moratorium period, which is still going on.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT
KG will be back for a record 21st NBA season.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Cleveland just added Mo Williams, but Smith (and Matthew Dellavedova) will likely be back.
Jul 7, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
The 12th overall pick hasn’t practiced with the Jazz, and remains unsigned. But the GM says “No worries.”
- PBT Extra: Spurs lead Texas winners in NBA Free Agency 0
- J.J. Redick: Clippers deserve “F” for free agency after losing DeAndre Jordan 19
- PBT Podcast: Free agency’s winners and losers 0
- Report: Boston Celtics agree to trade for David Lee for Gerald Wallace 17
- Report: Kevin Garnett to re-sign with Timberwolves 17
- Report: Mo Williams signing with Cavaliers for most of their MLE 24
- Report: Cavaliers, Clippers discussing Jamal Crawford for Brendan Haywood trade 26
- Reports: David West agrees to veteran minimum deal to play for Spurs 80