Be honest. Your first thought was not, “Jerry Buss belongs in the Hall of Fame,” it was, “Wonder what his date will look like at the ceremony?”
Good question. But the man does belong in the Naismith Hall of Fame and ESPNLosAngeles is reporting that Buss has made it. He will be part of a class that also includes Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone.
Buss’ success on the court with the Lakers is one reason he gets the call. Since he bought the team in 1979, the Lakers have won nine NBA titles, they have been to the Finals 12 times, they produced legends of the game such as Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, they have become the center of the sports world in Los Angeles and one of the most recognized brands in sport.
But it is really what Buss did off the court that earned him entrance into the Hall.
When he bought the Lakers the NBA treated basketball as, well, basketball. Buss realized that what he owned was an entertainment enterprise that happened to sell basketball. It needed was some sizzle.
So in came the Laker Girls. In came Dancing Barry (a guy in top hat and tails who would dance through the crown during breaks, which seems quaint now but was a revolution back in the day, and I’m not kidding). The Forum Club was established so celebrities had a place to throw back a martini (and some blow, if we’re honest) before, after and during the game. Then those celebrities went and sat in very visible courtside seats. Music was pumped throughout the building during breaks.
Buss changed the atmosphere in the building and around the team. Certainly, it helped to have Magic and his bigger-than-life personality on the court, to have the fun of Showtime. It never, ever hurts to win. Buss, however, changed the NBA at its core by selling that as entertainment, not basketball.
Mark Cuban has said as much. Today, every team — even the Boston Celtics — has dance teams. Every team pumps in the music in time outs. Every team sells sizzle with the steak.
Every team owes some of that to Jerry Buss. He deserves to be in the Hall. And bring whomever he wants as a date.