My dream really was to have the Lakers and Los Angeles identified as one and the same. When you think New York, you think Yankees. I wanted that to be the case here as well. That when you think L.A., you think Lakers. I believe I've accomplished that. Dr. Jerry Buss, 2010
I do not know Dr. Jerry Buss. I have never met him. I have never shook his hand. I've never even seen him except in pictures and on television screens. Still, when word of his death reached me this morning, I was immediately affected. My first reaction was sadness: for the loss of the Buss family, for the Lakers organization, for the city of Los Angeles, and for me. My second reaction was to realize how foolish my first reaction was.
Dr. Buss does not deserve your sadness. He deserves your joy. He deserves your honor. He deserves your celebration. Hell, he even deserves your criticism. This is a man who turned a $1,000 real estate investment into ownership of a $1 billion sports franchise. This is a man who went from a childhood in the most anonymous state in the country to being one of the most famous men in Hollywood. He owned one of the most glamorous franchises in all of sports, because he understood the importance of making the franchise glamorous. Along the way, Jerry Buss always, always, made sure he was having a good time, even if that good time is something others might look down upon. He lived a life worthy of ten men, experienced more in his 80 years on this planet than most of us could in 800.
Dr. Buss was also a visionary of the highest order, revolutionizing the meaning of owning a sports team. Hell, per Roland Lazenby, even the way Buss financed the purchase of the Lakers as part of a sports empire including the LA Kings and the Great Western Forum required tremendous vision. Once the team was his, Buss turned the Lakers into a premier brand not just of basketball, but of entertainment. He created the Laker Girls and hired a live band to make every game an event, no matter what happened on the court. He created a regional sports network that ensured everybody with basic cable would be able to watch the Lakers. He understood the importance of every fan, from the movie star who could afford to pay a premium for court side seats, to the legion of blue-collar guys who couldn't afford to come to games at all. Of course, it helped that everything he did off the court only worked to supplement the Showtime era on the court, but great moments are born of great opportunity, and nobody seized opportunities quite like Jerry Buss did.
Dr. Buss takes with him a legacy befitting his vision. The Lakers have won 10 championships in 33 years since he bought the team. They've been to the NBA finals 16 times over that stretch, nearly once every two years. They have won more than any other NBA team during his tenure, by every measure possible. From Magic to Shaq to Kobe, even to Dwight, Buss has ensured that the Lakers always have the biggest names in the game. All the while, Jerry Buss ensured that one of the biggest names in the game was his.
Death is not something we deal with very often in this environment. We write words about sports, about a children's game that select few individuals are lucky enough to be paid to be involved with. We argue about minutiae like which lineups are the most efficient, or whether Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard can be effective partners, subjects which lose relevancy the second we move on to another realm of our lives. We write "eulogies" of players' careers, or coach's tenures, not actual eulogies. Death's relevancy is everywhere, in everything, and we are certainly not experts. I cannot tell you how to process this loss. It is foolish to even suggest there is only one proper way to do so.
All I can tell you is that I refuse to be saddened by the loss of Dr. Buss. His loss weakens the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA, because the loss of a great man always hurts the institutions which that man made great. But that is the important point here: The Los Angeles Lakers will no longer be the same because we no longer have Dr. Buss at the helm, but the Los Angeles Lakers are THE Los Angeles Lakers only because Dr. Buss was at the helm in the first place. He made this team what it is. He was the greatest owner in professional sports.
You can choose to be saddened that he is no longer with us if you want to. I choose to be happy that we were blessed with him as an owner in the first place. I choose to celebrate what he created. to remember his legacy and to appreciate that he accomplished all that he ever wanted to. When a man achieves everything that he ever wanted to, his life is full and the end of that life is no longer tragic. The life of Dr. Jerry Buss was complete long before it ever ended.