Jerry Buss, Hall of Famer

Darius Soriano —  April 6, 2010

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It has been reported that Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss has been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Over the years, Dr. Buss has been the steward of this organization and been a major influence on all its success.  He’s done things his way and repeatedly come out on top.  The man is truly one of a kind

He is Jerry Hatten Buss, 46, an amiable and intelligent Los Angeles multimillionaire who extravagantly admires, among other things, M & M candy, French existentialists, any and all USC football teams, any and all Playboy centerfold girls, rare coins, rare stamps, rare cars and rare bargains in real estate.

His persona is an amalgam of Horatio Alger and Hugh Hefner; of sugar daddy, devoted father, accountant, real estate wheeler-dealer and aerospace scientist. Buss comes on in a manner that mixes cowboy swagger with movie star glamour, college professor smarts with pool hustler chic.

(Buss) went to Laramie, where he worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift as a chemist at the Bureau of Mines and attended the University of Wyoming during the day. He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 2(?) years when he was only 19. So impressive were his grades that he was offered scholarships at Harvard, Michigan, Cal Tech and USC, among other schools. Buss picked USC “because of football and the weather,” and got his master’s and his Ph.D….

Always the sports fan, Buss had his eyes on the Lakers and would later acquire them from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 who he had met after renting out the Forum some three years earlier.  Showing his business savvy, Buss would immediately make two moves that would set the Lakers franchise on a path for long term success (from the same SI piece)

Within days after his purchase of the club was announced, Buss may have solved a potentially nasty situation by arranging to keep former Laker Coach Bill Sharman as general manager and at the same time offering Jerry West a front-office job of equal rank that will enable him to gracefully give up his coaching duties, which he has grown to abhor. Buss was kept constantly informed by Cooke of the negotiations that resulted in the signing of Earvin (Magic) Johnson.

 But over the years it’s been obvious that it’s not just his business savvy, but his risk taking and instincts that have gotten him to where he is today.  When the opportunity to take a chance and gamble on the ultimate prize presents itself, it’s Buss that rises to the challenge.

Jerry Buss , owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has forced all other teams out of the bidding for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar , according to Tom Collins , the representative of the free- agent center.

Collins said of Buss, ”He has done a very good job in this poker game of making the other teams drop out. He and Kareem are now the only two players.” Buss said he would offer ”a flat $1.4 million” a season to Abdul-Jabbar, who is reportedly asking about $400,000 more.

And it wasn’t just with the acquistion of Kareem, but also how the Lakers came to draft Magic Johnson that Buss played a winning hand (from My Life, Earvin “Magic” Johnson):

Before Buss bought the team, Cooke told him the Lakers’ management had recommended drafting Sidney Moncrief… “No way”, said Buss. “Magic Johnson’s the guy or the deal’s off.”

Magic and Kareem.  Showtime.  The glory days.  Five championships and 8 Finals appearances with those two on the roster.  Based off all that success, it’s no wonder that Buss has been so loyal to Magic over the years.  Few remember that Buss actually extended Magic’s contract after he had retired from the NBA in 1992.

Magic Johnson continued an eventful week yesterday by signing a $14.6 million one-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. Rosen added that Johnson would receive the money even if he were no longer playing. “The contract is fully guaranteed,” Rosen said. “There is no stipulation that Earvin has to still be playing, and there is no stipulation that Earvin must be employed by the Lakers.

“Dr. Buss is a man of his word,” he said, referring to Lakers owner Jerry Buss. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. This is something Dr. Buss wanted to do long before Earvin announced his retirement. We looked at all the years when Earvin was not the league’s highest-paid player, and this is the number we negotiated. On the day he retired, Dr. Buss still said that he would do this. He’s an owner who has gone above and beyond.”

But the success didn’t stop in the 80’s or with the retirement of Magic.  The Lakers have gone on win four more championships and make 6 more trips to the Finals under the stewardship of Buss.  When it’s all added up that’s 9 NBA Championships and 15 Finals appearances for the Lakers since Jerry Buss acquired the team in 1979.  And with the extension of Kobe, Gasol and Bynum, the re-signing of Odom, and the acquistion of Artest the Lakers look to be in contention for more deep playoff runs and championships. 

I doubt that Dr. Buss was thinking Hall of Fame or bust when he purchased the Lakers back over 30 years ago.  But, it looks like he’s gotten there anyway.  Congratulations are in order for one of the most successful owners in all of professional sports and a man that is truly one of a kind.  Jerry Buss, Hall of Famer.

(A special thanks goes out to Gatinho for compiling all the articles and quotes used for this piece.  As our resident Lakers historian, this post wouldn’t have been possible without his help.)

Darius Soriano

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