The Dodgers tipped their cap, much like the whole city, the entire sport, like all American professional sports.
Jerry Buss was an original, a transformative figure. Visionary is a strong word, but not too strong.
Buss not only influenced the Lakers, but all of Los Angeles. He changed the way sports were presented, and it did not matter what sport.
His death Monday of complications of cancer at age 80 brought reaction from across the country, and down the freeway.
Said the Dodgers in a release:
“The Los Angeles Dodgers organization extends its deepest sympathies to the Buss family and the Los Angeles Lakers’ organization on the passing of one of the greatest owners in NBA history. Jerry Buss made great contributions to the sporting landscape of Los Angeles and America and was a true champion in every sense of the word. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family.”
More than any non-NBA team, the Dodgers have been affected by the Buss touch.
Team president Stan Kasten was an executive with the NBA when Buss purchased the Lakers in 1979. Buss would admit to some luck along the way to his team’s popularity and 10 NBA titles, the greatest of which was the No. 1 pick he inherited from previous owner Jack Kent Cooke that first year -- Earvin Johnson. That would be Magic Johnson, who is now a part-owner in the Dodgers. The team’s executive vice president of marketing, Lon Rosen, started his career as a Lakers intern.
I covered that 1979-1980 team, and initially wasn’t sure what to make of Buss. People commented then on how with his mustache he resembled the Marlboro man, the cowboy figure then popular in cigarette ads. He had a deserved playboy rep and was always with a young woman.
Yet we would quickly learn simple caricatures would not serve to describe Buss. In those early days, the post-game party was a small affair in the cramped Forum press dining room. Buss -- with his current girlfriend and a small entourage that would usually include his lifelong friend, Bob Steiner -- would sit and drink late into the night with the media. Share ideas, pick their brains, begin to lay out his vision.
It was impossible then to imagine how he would transform the Lakers and the NBA. The Lakers became true entertainment, from the way they played the game, to introducing the league’s first dance team, to the music, to the celebrity and to all that winning.