There are people you never meet who can have a profound impact on your life. Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, was one of those people. Buss died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 80-years-old.
In my lifetime, there hasn’t been a more successful sports franchise. As a fan, I’ve been spoiled to refer to the Lakers as “my team.” Thankfully for all Lakers fans, Dr. Buss viewed it this way too. He owned the team, but from my lifetime of observation, I never got the sense that it all belonged to him. There was a sense of stewardship in maintaining the Lakers as something to point to as a sense of civic and fan pride for more than three decades.
There were rarely lean or “rebuilding” years under Buss’ ownership. As a fan, you appreciate that the owner will do what it takes – within reason – to win. Not just win a few games here and there or have a nice winning percentage, but to win championships. This is what distinguishes the Lakers from nearly every other franchise in professional sports. Championships are what it is ultimately all about. Dr. Buss raised the standards and met them often.
All of this has had a profound impact on my life. Yes, “profound” may be too strong a word for how Buss’ life actually impacted me, but his life was extraordinary. He was a self-made businessman and laid the groundwork for the eventual convergence of sports and entertainment. Cheerleaders (think Laker Girls) on an NBA sideline was once a new idea. Courtside seats are a status symbol for the Hollywood elite. It was all part of creating that aura that The Forum or Staples Center was a place to be seen. “The Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood,” Buss once said.
He was the only Los Angeles Lakers owner I’ve ever known. That means a lot considering the murkiness or sliminess that can revolve around owning an NBA team (ask Seattle, Vancouver and Sacramento fans about that). You knew there was one guy responsible and one guy who would ultimately take the heat if things went wrong. They rarely did, however.
There are so many bonding moments and memories watching the Lakers with friends and family. I’ve spent hours watching and talking about the Lakers with my brother, reminiscing (sometimes loathing) and comparing our memories of players and teams of the past. We’ve grown up watching the Lakers on television, and for a long time, listening on the radio. We’ve planned evenings around Lakers games on television. If there were places we needed to go, we would go “after the game” or attend to something “at halftime.”
It’s difficult to think that part of my life is now gone, but like other deaths that bring sadness, you’re thankful for their life, how they lived it and the impact it has on you. I’ll carry those memories forever.
Thank you, Dr. Buss.