It’s hard to believe that a child of the Depression raised by a single mother in Wyoming could change the cultural landscape of the second biggest city in the U.S., but he did. Dr. Jerry Buss’ “rags to riches” story is what makes this country great and he is as good a representative of the “American Dream” as I can think of.
As my parents were first generation Filipino-Americans striving to obtain their version of the American dream, they were passionate about three things; family, success, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss made that possible, he changed the culture of the team and created an aura surrounding the organization that resulted in one of the most glamorous teams in the sporting world. Soon enough, rooting for the Lakers is what defined a person as an Angeleno.
Dr. Buss made the organization the purple and gold standard in Los Angeles and through the shared experience of rooting for the home team aided immigrants like my parents to assimilate in Southern California, thus becoming real Angelenos.
In 1979, Dr. Buss bought the team in as part of a package deal with former owner Jack Kent Cooke that included the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, the Forum sports arena located in Inglewood, and Cooke’s California Ranch. The entire package was purchased by Buss at $67.5 million, which the New York Times called “the largest single financial transaction in the history of professional sports.”
The “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s changed not only matched the star-power of Hollywood but also had success on the hardwood. In fact, the 1979-80 Lakers won the NBA title in Dr. Buss’ first year of owning the organization. The team featured NBA superstar and all-time points leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, future hall-of-famer Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes, and then rookie and Michigan State star Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The Lakers are estimated to have costed Dr. Buss about $16 million in 1979 and as of January, the team has been valued at $1 billion by Forbes Magazine.
His implementation of “Showtime” and changing the cultural landscape surrounding the team is not more apparent than in the fact that courtside seats were only $15 at the time of his purchase. Nowadays, those seats are rarely available and sell for $2,600 a game and usually are reserved for Hollywood A-listers like Lakers superfan Jack Nicholson.
Los Angeles is often referred nowadays as a basketball town and it goes without saying that Dr. Buss bringing 10 championships to the city has much to do with that. Everybody loves a winner.
Despite the glitz and glamour surrounding the organization, Dr. Buss had a simple solution to who would take over for him after his death by keeping it in the family. His son Jim has been seen as the heir to the Lakers throne for years now and will oversee basketball decisions with General Manager Mitch Kupchak. His daughter Jeanie is vice president of business operations and most of the other four siblings have a place in the Lakers organization. Yes, the second biggest organization in the NBA will still remain to be a family business as Dr. Buss wanted.
Dr. Buss was widely considered to be the best owner that the NBA has ever had and possibly greatest in all of professional sports. The loss is echoed in the fact that his death not only made headline news in Los Angeles, but national news as well.
The influence and presence of Dr. Buss will be felt for many years in the Lakers organization and entire NBA, but most important of all, in the city of Los Angeles.
I will always remember Dr. Buss as the mustachioed ladies man that gave the city that I love the greatest gift it could possibly receive; a standard of excellence to live up to and a team to be proud to root for.