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SBD/February 19, 2013/People and Pop Culture
Stern Credits Buss For Putting League Needs First; Others Chime In With Remembrances
Published February 19, 2013
VISIONARY AT MARKETING GAME: In N.Y., Howard Beck notes Buss was a “visionary in the art of marketing the game,” and the NBA’s “deft fusion of sports and entertainment is part of Buss’s fantastic legacy.” The impact of Buss means “every franchise now has a dance team (or several), and every timeout at every NBA game is now a nonstop whir of kiss-cams, half-court shooting contests and T-shirt cannons.” What made the Lakers “great was Buss, who in so many ways was the model owner, the sort that every fan wants: generous with his payroll, methodical in his decisions, competitive and engaged, but never a meddler” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Bruce Dowbiggin writes Buss’ “marketing innovations, from celebrities courtside through to his legendary coach PHIL JACKSON living with his daughter JEANIE, pointed the way for the sports industry to link arms with the entertainment world” (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/19). In California, Mark Whicker writes Buss was “a futurist, a macro-manager,” and was one of the “first to sell naming rights.” When he owned the NHL Kings, he was “one of the first to put ads on the dasher boards, and there were ads on the back of game tickets, and, of course, there was Gucci Row and the Laker Girls” (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/19). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes Buss initiated the “launch of a regional sports network and added TV revenue.” Buss in ‘85 “became partners with Colorado cable TV entrepreneur BILL DANIELS, and the two started the Prime Ticket network to show the Lakers and Kings games, home and away, live to Southern California and Hawaii residents” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/19). Buss was “long a fervent supporter of his alma mater, USC.” He took “two successful elements from Trojan games -- cheerleaders and a band -- to build his brand” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/18). Lakers radio announcer JOHN IRELAND said, "He was able to run numbers in his head to figure out how to capitalize business into entertainment into dollars, and I think that separated him from everybody else” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/18).
IT'S SHOWTIME: In L.A., Bill Plaschke notes many credit former Basketball HOFer MAGIC JOHNSON “with devising the sort of basketball excitement that changed the game forever.” But Johnson said that it “was all Buss.” Johnson: “He created a scene where you didn't want to miss anything, the cheerleaders and the music and the show. He was a genius, way ahead of his time; the league owes him a lot" (L.A. TIMES, 2/19). Cavaliers coach BYRON SCOTT, who played with the Lakers from '83-93 and '96-97, said, “Dr. Buss was an innovator. He had the Laker Girls. It was just some of the things he introduced to the NBA. With Showtime, all of a sudden we had actors and actresses come to see us because of the way we played, the style we played. Dr. Buss had everything to do with all of that” (L.A. TIMES, 2/19). Former Lakers coach and current Heat President PAT RILEY said, “Jerry Buss was more than just an owner. He was one of the great innovators that any sport has ever encountered” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 2/18). CBS’ Bill Whitaker said, “He was not a flashy man, but, oh, did Jerry Buss know how to put on a show. ... Buss made courtside at Lakers games the place to see and be seen” (“Evening News,” CBS, 2/18). NBCSPORTS.com’s Kurt Helin wrote Buss “understood that the steak needed sizzle” (NBCSPORTS.com, 2/18). ESPN.com’s LZ Granderson said what Buss “brought to the NBA was ‘Showtime’ and that marketing that set the stage” for a player like MICHAEL JORDAN “to take the NBA to the next level" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/18).
MAKING THE LAKERS THE BIGGEST SHOW IN TOWN: In N.Y., Howie Kussoy writes Buss “turned Inglewood into Hollywood, blending athletics and entertainment while turning a town draped in Dodger blue to purple and gold as the Lakers became one of the world’s most popular teams” (N.Y. POST, 2/19). DAILY VARIETY’s Brian Lowry wrote despite the “hold the Dodgers have always had on Los Angeles, the Lakers became more closely associated with the town’s stereotypical, RANDY NEWMAN-themed image than any other franchise ever has” (VARIETY.com, 2/18). The L.A. TIMES’ Plaschke writes Buss will be remembered “for creating a basketball environment for the hip and privileged, courtside seats costing thousands, the dimmed Staples Center lights turning each game into an expensive nightclub.” He charged “plenty for the rich and powerful few who could afford it, but he spent much more in building a team that was successful and embraceable enough to be loved by everyone throughout the culturally and economically diverse heart of Los Angeles” (L.A. TIMES, 2/19). An L.A. DAILY NEWS editorial states, “It's not certain that Buss was the most important owner in Southern California sports history. After all, WALTER O'MALLEY made L.A. a major-league city by moving the Dodgers here from Brooklyn. But nobody is more responsible than Buss for creating the region's current sports landscape. His triumphs will be long remembered with gratitude” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/19).
NOT FORGETTING HIS ROOTS: USA TODAY’s Mike Lopresti writes Buss “catered to the celebrities at courtside and the blue collars in the cheap seats and seemed to know how to appreciate both.” He “charmed a city famous for its fashion obsession on the red carpet and did it wearing blue jeans.” He also “understood that sport is show business and show business is sport, and since you can make a lot of money from each, imagine what might happen if you put them together” (USA TODAY, 2/19). In L.A., Vincent Bonsignore writes for “all his money and power and genius and beautiful starlets, Jerry Buss was just an everyday sports fan who just happened to hit it big in real estate and achieve the wherewithal to buy his own team.” The impression was “he'd never go wrong by always keeping the best interest of the fans at heart when it came to running and financing the Lakers." And by “hiring smart, talented people and letting them do their jobs, his money would ... always be wisely spent” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/19). In S.F., Scott Ostler writes Buss was “understated and non-flashy.” He was “approachable, amiable and candid in his dealings with the media.” Ostler “never saw him angry or flustered” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 2/19).
ENJOYING THE HIGH LIFE: In N.Y., Richard Goldstein writes, “Affecting a Western style with his customary jeans and an open-neck shirt, dancing at discos, and being known for his eye for beautiful women, Mr. Buss was a celebrity in his own right.” He once owned the Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills, and "he loved to hold parties for the Hollywood crowd” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said Buss “reminded me of HUGH HEFNER in sports, where he liked to play poker, he liked to hang with the women.” However, he also "stayed behind the scenes with the Lakers” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/18). FOXSPORTSWEST.com’s Joe McDonnell wrote Buss’ “larger-than-life persona came about as much from his lifestyle as it did his success as a sportsman.” He owned the “most glamorous franchise sports has ever seen, and Buss enjoyed the perks that went along with running a great team playing in the entertainment capital of the world” (FOXSPORTSWEST.com, 2/18). SPORTING NEWS' David Whitley wrote, "Buss loved a party and always had a model or actress or centerfold on his arm. ... Buss might truly have been the World's Most Interesting Man" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 2/18).
ONE OF THE GREATEST OWNERS EVER: Basketball HOFer BILL WALTON said, “He was the greatest owner in the history of sports.” In San Diego, Nick Canepa wrote Walton was “probably” right. Canepa: “So much credit goes to David Stern or Magic or LARRY BIRD or Michael Jordan for turning around what basically was a destitute league when I covered it. But could it have happened without the Lakers? Without Showtime, which became the envy of every professional sports franchise in America? Doubtful” (UTSANDIEGO.com, 2/18). ESPN's Bomani Jones said it was not “hyperbole to say that he was probably the greatest owner in American team sports.” Columnist Kevin Blackistone: “He may have been the greatest owner for the last generation-and-a-half given all that he did in L.A.” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/18). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote Buss was the “best owner I’ve ever known” (AJC.com, 2/18). GRANTLAND’s Bill Simmons wrote, “Here was the greatest professional basketball owner who ever lived, an influential power broker who controlled one of the league’s wealthiest franchises” (GRANTLAND.com, 2/18). SI.com’s Lee Jenkins wrote under the header, “Lakers’ Success A Testament To Best Owner In Sports History” (SI.com, 2/18). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said Buss was “maybe the best owner in the league.” He was “part of that brilliance” of “directing the league to great places” and the global marketing of the NBA ("PTI," ESPN, 2/18). SPORTS ON EARTH's Shaun Powell wrote Buss was "maybe the only owner whom nobody hated" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 2/18).
WHO'S THE BOSS? In California, Jim Alexander wrote the numbers on the court “are only part of a legacy that sets Buss apart from the pack, and indeed puts him alone in a class with the late New York Yankees owner, GEORGE STEINBRENNER.” Buss was Steinbrenner “without the tyrannical nature.” Alexander: “He hungered to win, he connected marvelously with his fan base … and he succeeded without treating his employees like dirt” (PE.com, 2/18). San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami said Buss was the “flip side” of former Steinbrenner. They both had the “demand for success, the need for success." Kawakami: "But while Steinbrenner put his thumb on people to try to get them to go ... Buss always tried to give them stuff, ‘What do you need? What can I do to help you?’” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 2/18).
SHOWING HIS POKER FACE: In Las Vegas, Howard Stutz notes Buss “was an active poker player ... especially at the World Series of Poker, where he was a participant for decades.” Buss had “four career cashes at the World Series of Poker, including a third-place finish in 1991 in a seven-card stud limit event.” Buss in ‘10 said that he “thought about playing poker professionally.” Thirteen-time WSOP bracelet winner PHIL HELLMUTH JR. said that he “never heard Buss say anything negative about another poker player” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 2/19).