NBA: Lakers owner Jerry Buss shows that it’s not all about money
By Gil LeBreton
They held a parade in downtown Los Angeles for the new NBA champions the other day.
Bands. Laker Girls. Kobe.
And, go figure, no owner.
Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, chose to sit this parade out.
No big deal, maybe. Buss remains a very intriguing — and very rich — man.
Faced with similar public celebrations, I’m sure, local sports moguls Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones would have done the same thing.
(Pause for snide chuckling.)
Gossip Web site “TMZ.com” caught Buss, reportedly at the same time as the Lakers’ parade, playing poker at a nearby casino. Poker is one of Buss’ hobbies. Celebrating NBA championships apparently isn’t.
Regardless of what you think of Buss — and of Kobe Bryant, for that matter — he stands as Exhibit A of how some pro sports owners are blessed by providence, while others can’t even seem to win a playoff game.
People who own sports teams share a common bond: They all had a big pile of money at some point in their lives.
Buss made his early fortune in southern California real estate. By 1979 he owned the Lakers, the NHL Los Angeles Kings and the building they played in, The Forum.
His fling with the bright lights came during the Lakers’ “Showtime” years in the 1980s, when Buss could be found at courtside wearing a medallion on his chest and blondes on each arm.
He is 75 these days, and the young girls still are there. More and more each season, Buss looks like the guy from “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Yet, his team is back on top, where it’s usually been during his three decades of signing the checks.
For what it’s worth, the “Sports Illustrated” online site ranked Buss as the No. 1 owner in pro basketball. Cuban was listed as No. 3.
The same article selected Tom Hicks the second-worst owner in baseball, behind Baltimore’s Peter Angelos.
And among NFL owners, the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones made neither the Web site’s best nor worst list. Ranked best was the Rooney family, who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. Listed as worst was Al Davis, for reasons too numerous to mention.
But lists are just lists. If you want to look elsewhere on the Web, you can easily find one where Jones ranks at the top of the NFL owner lists, with the Redskins’ Dan Snyder astonishingly right behind.
Go figure. One such Web list gave Jones high marks for winning three Super Bowls (the last one coming when your kids were in diapers), for spending generously on free agents (hmm ... Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson?) and for building the alleged greatest arena since the Roman colosseum.
Well, we’ll see about the last one. But Jones hasn’t produced a playoff winner here in 13 years.
He has three Super Bowl rings. But so does the roundly vilified Al Davis.
The Raiders, in fact, have won four NFL postseason games since Jones’ team last won one. So who, exactly, is a better owner?
Success shouldn’t be defined by how much money a team’s owner spends.
The six highest-valued franchises in baseball, according to “Forbes,” are worth a collective $5.176 billion, and none made it to the World Series last season.
New arenas and stadiums? Fine, if that’s your thing. Don’t complain about the $40 parking.
No, the one common thread among the owners who win championships is not that they had enough money to buy the teams, but that they put the right people in place to run them.
The NFL Steelers, Patriots and New York Giants have all had the genius to identify those people, and then the humility to put them in charge.
In Buss’ case, it was Jerry West. The rest is written in the NBA record books.
The Lakers have flourished again, even with Mitch Kupchak trying to fill West’s ample shoes.
Buss even survived trading Shaquille O’Neal, picking the precocious Bryant to lead the team instead.
Conversely, the two franchises regularly picked at the bottom of any NFL owners list, Oakland and Cincinnati, have no general managers, as such. Their recent fates speak for themselves.
Meanwhile, while Cuban and his general manager, Donnie Nelson, try to figure out what they’re going to do this off-season with the likes of Jason Kidd and Erick Dampier, the Lakers will have to decide whether they want to bring Kobe, Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom back, and, no doubt, be thickly in the hunt for another NBA title.
It’s not the owner’s money, we were reminded this week. It’s not even who rides in the parade.
Put the right people in charge and any owner can learn to celebrate.