He need not be known by anything but The Doctor. He was a beloved sports owner that was part of unprecedented success in his career and the recipient of love and admiration of countless players on his team. Unfortunately, he passed away on February 18th, 2013. This man was Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A man who earned his Ph.D in physical chemistry at the young age of 24, he found his riches early in his work with the Bureau of Mines and in the aerospace engineering field before striking oil, in a sense, with the housing industry starting in the 70’s.
Having a keen eye for the franchise in Los Angeles and helping to bring in, keep and cultivate amazing talent over the years, he had his hands in every move that the Lakers have made up until passing the team off to his son this year. Dr. Buss brought 10 championships to the Lakers, coming in clumps with the 80’s showtime Lakers as well as the 00’s Kobe/Jackson Lakers. There may have been a 10 year lull in championships, but that is of no consequence to a man who resided over 10 championships, more than most franchises can dream of winning.
There have only been three officially titled GMs associated with the Jerry Buss ownership era. Holdover GM Bill Sharman, legend Jerry West and currently Mitch Kupchak. Over the years I’m sure that Buss became more involved and more knowledgable about the game of basketball as it grew immensely and changed so it is hard to determine how much Buss had to do with the drafting of the immortal Magic Johnson in 1979, the first year of his ownership, and he didn’t have anything to do with the trade for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. However, Kareem didn’t win a title with the Lakers until ’79 when Buss took over. Magic and Kareem were, for lack of a better word, magic and dominated the 80’s with the Boston Celtics.
Magic has been quoted many teams in recent weeks lavishing praise on Dr. Buss for the way he approached being an owner and he changed the way owners view their players for the better. Without this fundamental change, the Lakers would not have been able to win the way they did and the way they continue to win. Magic has been emotional about the loss of Dr. Buss, even crying on national television during an ESPN pre-game show, and this just goes to show just how important Jerry Buss was to the players he brought to the Lakers.
Looking at the early 2000’s really shows the fingerprint of Dr. Buss’s basketball acumen though. He put together two separate juggernauts with the help of Jerry West and, later, with Mitch Kupchak. Buss and West, a dream Lakers team, in 1996 traded Vlade Divac to the Hornets for Kobe Bryant, drafted Derek Fischer and signed Shaquille O’Neal. Quite the offseason for any team of owner and GM. This didn’t pay off in the way of a championship until the ’99-’00 season. After that, they reeled off a 3-peat with the killer combination of Kobe-Shaq, but it was always going to end because Kobe and Shaq simply couldn’t find a way to coexist.
Normally, losing the likes of Shaq would cripple a franchise, even in a trade that netted the Lakers Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, a 1st round pick and some other small pieces. But, Dr. Buss wasn’t going to allow that to happen. He had the best young player in the NBA in Kobe Bryant and one of the best, if not the best, markets in the NBA. With the help of Mitch Kupchak, they turned losing a big personality and big big man into a few serviceable years and then a jump when they fleeced Memphis for Pau Gasol. The trade involved the immortally bad Kwame Brown, the eventually valuable Marc Gasol, 2 1st round picks and change for Pau Gasol and change. After losing in the finals to the Boston Celtics in 2006-2007, this trade brought in the needed big man to pair with Kobe and a much more manageable personality to allow Kobe to be the alpha dog instead of butting heads with Shaq.
With the combination of Kobe and Pau the Lakers pulled off two more NBA championships and brought Kobe into, as Bill Simmons would put it, Pantheon level.
This is all just what he helped create on the court and doesn’t even take into account how much he helped the game of basketball and helped the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 for $67.5 million and, at the time of his death, the Lakers are now valued at roughly $1 billion…with a B, a very big B.
Dr. Buss will be missed and I hope that the Lakers ownership, his children, can keep his spirit alive in their everyday dealings and their success in the NBA. His son Jim Buss is off to a slow start, but it isn’t for lack of trying and he is showing the same big splash moves that his father was known for. Here is to you Dr. Buss, the greatest owner in sports history.