He was a child of the depression, an old school business player and he struck it rich the way the old players did, swinging hard and swinging all night. Jerry Buss earned his doctorate in physical chemistry and made a fortune in real estate which he turned into a bigger fortune in sports. He wasn’t as diversified as some of today’s owners but he lived a lot larger and won larger too – ten NBA titles and that won’t happen again. He liked to be called Dr. Buss, hung out at the Playboy mansion and drove a purple Rolls. He talked softly, had an easy smile and wasn’t shy about dropping the hammer when he had to. And now he’s gone.
The passing of a giant overshadowed most of the other current basketball news, especially for Lakers fans. It reminded us of the frailty of life but in truth we’re reminded every day and sports is no exception – there’s a reason you see so many gimpy jocks and a reason their shelf lives are so short. It’s a tradeoff – they blow out their joints and stress their organs and leave it all on the floor, and some go even harder when they truly believe, when there’s a goal in sight, a unified mission, a team structure, a culture of winning. Or in the case of Dwight Howard, a culture of fun.
Tonight the Lakers face another team with injuries and old stories, the Boston Celtics. There’s a sizable gap between their respective records this season – Boston has faced adversity with their customary zeal and bunker mentality and will play after losing in Denver last night. The Lakers meanwhile have been heading down a wrongheaded path since Phil Jackson limped off into the not-quite-sunset. Is it Jim Buss’s fault? Not entirely. There were some lean years during Jerry Buss’s prime so let’s not forget that. Still, being a Laker under the good doctor’s stewardship held an undeniable panache.