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Scott Howard-Cooper

Jerry Buss brought new ideas to the basketball world while helping the Lakers win 10 championships.
Rich Pilling/NBAE via Getty Images

In city about glamour, Buss brought innovation to Lakers

Posted Aug 13 2010 9:31PM

A boyhood with little money turned into a life of fantasy luxury. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from USC, he owns a worldwide phenomenon of a sports franchise, he is, shall we say, an unabashed single man ("Well, it's no secret that I really admire beautiful women"), he plays high-stakes poker, and back in the day was running buddies with similarly unattached Magic Johnson, zooming off to Vegas on short notice to catch a fight or, you know, whatever.

Jerry Buss is heading into the Hall of Fame only after winning the human-race lottery. He owns the Lakers, which makes him part-owner of his adopted Los Angeles, and has 10 championships and looks up to find the calendar has turned him into an old guard of the league while still young at 76 enough to enjoy it.

Standard bearer is how he is being inducted on Aug. 13, though, in the Contributor category because he was innovative in marketing his team as more than a night of basketball, because he correctly envisioned that the Lakers could become pop culture, because he participated in the birthing of the relationship between sports and cable television, because he became such a respected and level voice that he was twice voted president of the Board of Governors. Greedily controlling the distribution of championship trophies in only occasionally letting others take one home is obviously part of an amazing story. It's just not why Buss is being enshrined.

"Jerry brought so many new ideas, original ideas, to the game in terms of marketing, it was incredible," said former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, himself a Hall of Famer. "He was ahead of his time. He really was."

"Jerry, quite simply, was a pioneer in understanding what the value of entertainment was in a community," commissioner David Stern said.

Buss as The Establishment. Yeah, everyone really saw that coming.

He looks anything but the part, jeans and open-collar shirts, an entourage of a younger generation breezing through the back corridors of Staples Center with him after games, Hugh Hefner analogies easily jumping to mind and Buss doing nothing to try to spin some Fortune magazine image.

"I don't look for credit. In business, you look for success," he said.

"But you don't need any credit from anybody. It [his image] doesn't get in the way. If I was trying to create an image as some high-powered businessman, it probably would. But I don't seek that image.

"I was a long-time California fan. I used to go to the Dodger games. I used to go to the Laker games. I used to go to the Ram games. When you were ever in the arena, you often times would hear opponents yell, 'Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!' There used to be more people from out of town that would go to games than local residents. If Chicago played, the place would be packed with Chicago people. I used to really hate that when I was a loyal Los Angeles fan, so one of the things I tried to do was give us an identity which was the same as the city.

"The city's all about glamour. My thought was, let's have some show time, let's have some glamour. That's why I tried to introduce the various celebrities to attend the game, have the beautiful cheerleaders, try to create an up-tempo basketball style, which later became known as Showtime, put in live music, not that dreadful organ you'd hear at games."

The plan is to remain in charge until his health no longer allows, but removing himself from the day-to-day responsibilities has already started. By Buss' estimate, daughter Jeanie runs 100 percent of the business side and son Jim has the say on about 80 percent of the basketball operations, and Jerry acknowledges the times he tells Jim to make the final call on a roster decision without consulting dad are increasing. So saying the patriarch is in charge is a relative term.

Buss-ing in New Era of Success
Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers prior to the 1979-80 season and in the 31 years since then, Buss' management of the team has been key in lifting the Lakers to new heights of success in L.A.
Lakers before Buss (1960-79) Lakers since Buss (1979-present)
Wins 907 1663
Losses 637 847
Win pct. .587 .663
Seasons under .500 4 3
60-win seasons 2 9
Division titles 10 17
MVPs on Lakers 1 (Abdul-Jabbar) 4 (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, O'Neal, Bryant)
NBA titles 1 10

In that way, his role in the league is still evolving, 31 years after buying the Lakers, NHL Kings, the Forum and a 13,000-acre ranch from cantankerous Jack Kent Cooke in what at the time was the largest transaction in the history of sports in the United States. He is one of the old guard, but very progressive. He pushed for flash in the basketball product, but is understated while sitting far from the court at home games and rarely giving interviews. He is known for being innovative, but more and more is telling others to determine the course.

The enshrinement will cause him to reminisce about an amazing run that still isn't over. The Lakers are expected to have a large contingent in Springfield and a lot of his family is scheduled to make the trip, and that will help spark the memories. That's how it goes to look up one day and suddenly be part of the old guard.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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