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.
May 27, 2015, 2:02 AM EDT
J.R. Smith on the national stage of the Finals is going to be so much fun.
May 27, 2015, 1:25 AM EDT
The Hawks have an excellent foundation to build on.
May 26, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
This one was over early.
May 26, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Injury issues continue to pile up as Atlanta is on the verge of elimination.
Storms in Houston forced Dwight Howard to remain at arena with fans until 2:30AM after Game 4 win over Warriors
May 26, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Severe flooding in the area had fans — and at least one player — stranded.
May 26, 2015, 8:09 PM EDT
May 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Inconsistent ruling, but a good one for the Rockets.
May 26, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Curry reported no symptoms after the game or on Tuesday, which means expect the regular Curry back for Game 5 Wednesday night.
May 26, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT
There is no timeline but this could impact training camp and the start of next season.
May 26, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
If he’s used in the aging shooter role on the court and veteran locker room presence off it, bringing him back for another season for a few million makes sense.
May 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
We talk flagrant fouls — the NBA has to find some consistency.
May 26, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
May 26, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Would the league really upgrade a foul and bench a star player in an elimination game?
May 26, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Not that it will be enough to get the Hawks a win.
May 26, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
The Nets just do not have good rebuilding options going forward.
May 26, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
Minnesota’s Zach LaVine has spent the early part of his offseason working on increasing his vertical… wait, what?
May 26, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
Will Nuggets sell low?
May 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
How and why?
May 26, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Pay up, Cleveland
May 26, 2015, 11:34 AM EDT
Mohammed, 37, already one of NBA’s oldest players
- Cavaliers complete sweep of Hawks, advance to NBA Finals 40
- Kyrie Irving back in Cavaliers lineup for Game 4 vs. Hawks 5
- NBA: No Game 5 suspension for Dwight Howard, flagrant-1 for hit on Andrew Bogut stands as called 18
- Report: Kyle Korver to have surgery on his ankle 5
- PBT Podcast: We’re back (finally), talking Curry, Harden, and what should be a Flagrant Foul 0
- PBT Extra: Will Dwight Howard’s foul on Bogut be upgraded to a Flagrant 2? Should it? 13
- PBT Extra: Horford/Dellavedova incident ups tension in Hawks/Cavaliers Game 4 10
- Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day 6