Bye-Bye, Boss Buss
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He started out as a 10-year-old fan, loving his Wyoming Cowboys all the way to the 1943 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
He left this world Monday as an 80-year-old boss, loving his Los Angeles Lakers all the way to 10 NBA Championships and 16 NBA Finals appearances in the 34 seasons he made the Lakers the most successful organization of the modern basketball era.
Dr. Jerry Buss bought the Lakers in 1979, and when he arrived, already had two Hall of Famers in place in the executive ranks--Bill Sharman and Jerry West--to show him the ropes of how to run a team.
With future Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes and Magic Johnson in place on roster, not to mention Hall-of-Fame announcer Chick Hearn to serve as the team's messenger, Dr. Buss and the Lakers created Showtime together
A championship here (1980), a future Hall of Fame coach there (Pat Riley), another championship here (1982), another Hall of Famer there (James Worthy), a few more championships to follow that (1985, 1987 and 1988), and Buss quickly established himself as the best boss in the NBA game.
He spent big money on his superstars and, consequently, most of Hollywood's celebrities and global icons flocked to the Fabulous Forum of Inglewood to fawn over his championship teams and living legends on the hardwood.
Nobody won like the Lakers, who grabbed five rings and made eight NBA Finals appearances in the '80s when L.A. posted a 591-229 record (.711), only bested by Boston by one win.
In the postseason, however, Buss' Lakers outperformed the Celtics, who won three titles in the '80s, giving L.A. the distinction of being the NBA's team of the decade during the league's beginning glory years.
There was a dry spell in Act II, a.k.a. The '90s, when the Lakers did not win any titles during the Michael Jordan Era, only reaching the NBA Finals once (1991).
The freshly-minted Lake Show, however, did enjoy consistent regular-season success (.615 winning percentage) and planted the seeds to early 21st Century domination by signing Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent (a 7-year, $120 million contract) in the Summer of 1996 and trading for a teenage Kobe Bryant, who was on the draft board at pick No. 13 and could be had for a trade (starting center Vlade Divac).
But the key to taking the Lakers into a new millennium of championship basketball in the Summer of 1999 was signing future Hall-of-Fame coaches Phil Jackson--a year off coaching Jordan and the Bulls to six NBA titles--and his right-hand man, Tex Winter, architect of Phil's famed Triangle offense.
After moving the team to the downtown L.A. state-of-the-art arena Staples Center, Dr. Buss returned to his dynastic ways, winning three straight championships (2000, 2001 and 2002) with his future Hall-of-Fame duo (Shaq and Kobe) and promoting future Hall-of-Fame exec Mitch Kupchak to the empowered GM position when West decided to step away from the game.
A coach sabbatical here, a Shaq blockbuster trade there and a regular-season collapse in 2005 forced Dr. Buss to bring back Phil and, in time, spend big on another future Hall-of-Fame center (Pau Gasol) to get the Lakers back into back-to-back championship form (2009 and 2010).
Such was Dr. Buss' legacy.
Win big. Spend big. Build big. Win big again.
His NBA players' payroll in his final season as Lakers owner likely will be $130 million, once you account for luxury-tax penalties. The next highest-spending NBA team in 2012-13 is the Brooklyn Nets, who will pay $96 million on total players' payroll this year.
In the last six NBA seasons, nobody spent more than Buss ($96 million in luxury-tax overage payments alone), whose investments paid off in three Finals appearances and two championships, while his Lakers made $37.6 million a year in operating profit over the past decade, as his teams posted a 710-394 record (.643) in the 21st Century.
It's starting to pay off exponentially off-the-court this season when the Lakers' 15-year, $3.6 billion TV deal with Time Warner Cable went into effect.
It will continue to pay off down the line, with Forbes now valuing the Lakers at $1.0 billion.
And all this came from a fledgling purchase 34 years ago, when Buss bought a Lakers' organization--then valued at $20 million--as part of a $67 million package that included the NHL Los Angeles Kings, the Forum arena and a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County.
Now may he rest in peace after creating a thriving sports-and-entertainment company for his billion-dollar Buss bunch--Jim, Jeanie, Johnny, Joey, Jesse and Janie Drexel--a six-sibling group which controls a 66-percent interest in the squad--Dr. Buss' stake, after selling 27 percent to AEG at the turn of the century, along with another 4 percent sold to Patrick Soon-Shiong and 3 percent to Ed Roski a few years back.
Dr. Buss' successful record--in both basketball and business--speaks for itself.
That is why he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in April 2010.
He was Dr. Buss. The most successful owner the NBA has ever seen.