Greatest sports figures in L.A. history, No. 16: Jerry Buss

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Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest figures in L.A. sports history with No. 16, Jerry Buss.

No. 16 Jerry Buss (no first-place votes, 723 points).


Amid the pageantry of the Lakers’ ring ceremony for their 2010 championship, Kobe Bryant wanted to make sure one man received the proper credit.

‘None of this would have been possible,’ the superstar guard told the Staples Center crowd, ‘without the greatest owner in the history of team sports … Mr. Jerry Buss.’

Certainly, no owner in team sports has been more successful.

Since Buss bought the Lakers in 1979, they have won 10 championships and been to the NBA Finals 16 times. Only twice in that span have they missed the playoffs.

While building the Lakers into one of the premier franchises in sports, he’s done so with a certain flair.

‘Right after I bought the team, I used to go into this little lounge in Santa Monica,’ Buss said in an interview with Times columnist Bill Plaschke in 2008. ‘The owner was also the musical director for MGM and they used to perform musicals there late at night, it was fantastic. Just before they would start, everyone would start shouting, ‘Showtime! Showtime!’ I remember thinking, this is how I wanted people to feel about their team.’

Attending a Lakers game means not only watching the players, but also taking in the Laker Girls and the Hollywood stars sitting courtside. It’s not just 48 minutes of basketball, it’s a social event, the place to be. Buss’ greatest accomplishment may be that the Lakers have passed the Dodgers to become the team in Los Angeles.

Buss purchased the Lakers, the NHL’s Kings, the Forum and a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67.5 million, at the time the largest transaction in sports history.
Today, the Lakers are valued at about $600 million.

‘If you talk about the fan experience, he was way ahead of the curve,’ Lakers Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson said in August of 2010 on the eve of Buss, induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. ‘He was way ahead of his time, with the team on the court, with the Laker Girls, with the band. He really understood fan experience way before it become common like it is now.’


Buss, an avid poker player, has never been shy to take a gamble with the Lakers. He has let go of three coaches (Paul Westhead, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson) who won him championships. He traded Shaquille O’Neal two years after the center finished a three-season run as the MVP of the Finals.

Buss points out that the trade of O’Neal eventually led to the Lakers’ acquiring Pau Gasol, who helped them win championships in 2009 and 2010. Gasol was an expensive pickup in terms of salary, but that’s nothing new for Buss. The Lakers had the league’s highest payroll in 2010 and have been paying a luxury tax for being above the league’s salary cap for years.

But Buss knows that to have a winning team, you need to spend. In 1981, he gave Johnson a 25-year, $25-million contract, at the time the highest-paying contract in sports history.

‘I’m the luckiest guy I ever met,’ Buss said in 2008. ‘I have the best job in the world. I’m very, very fortunate. I’m just happy running the Lakers.’


No. 17: Elgin Baylor


No. 18: Marcus Allen

No. 19: Jim Murray

No. 20: Wilt Chamberlain

Your votes are in: The 20 greatest sports figures in L.A. history

— Hans Tesselaar