Feb 28, 2013 - Issue 506

Ode to Jerry Buss:
NBA (and Los Angeles) Gamechanger

Bookmark and Share

We take a break from the serious stuff to give propers to a man who changed our lives and changed our culture in the city of Los Angeles. The passing of Los Angeles Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, requires that we take pause and reflect on a man whose charisma changed the face of a city and its cultural reality. Not just any city. The most laid back, nonchalant, indifferent city in the nation. What city do many “East Coasters” call the most “fake” and “disingenuous”? You got it, Los Angeles. The land of illusion. Or is it, “delusion?”

As a firsthand observer of this nonchalant-ness for nearly fifty years and encountering my fair share of delusional people, I can tell you nothing fazes the people of L.A. Not poverty. Not racism. Not anti-intellectualism - in fact, the stupider, the better. Not violence. We, the land of “gangsta rap.” Not homelessness. We’re the nation’s homeless capital. Not failing schools. We protect failing teachers and promote failing students. Not police abuse…well, maybe police abuse…a little bit. We kinda’ act up on that one every 27 years or so. They’re trying to keep it from coming five years early after the Dorner incident - yet I digress - Los Angeles doesn’t get excited about very much, very often. Los Angeles is so surreal, it earned its own nickname.

La-La Land.”

Nothing excites L.A. Everybody’s “Hollywood” and thus, are so “unimpressed.”

Los Angeles is as close as you can get to John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields (where nothing is real). People forget Los Angeles (the Valley) invented, “What-ever!!!”

We dismiss everything…even when it’s important.

Remember, we dismissed professional football over 25 years ago and still don’t know when we’ll get it back. But we’re building a stadium in hopes that the NFL will come back. There is one exception to this cultural passivity, and that’s when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers. Particularly, the post-1979 Lakers and it’s all because of one man, Jerry Buss.

Why did Los Angeles get excited about the Lakers, and not the Dodgers, the Rams, the Raiders or the Clippers? It’s not like we didn’t have professional sports teams before. We did, for nearly a half century. They just didn’t win very often. The Dodgers won every ten years or so after the Drysdale/Koufax years. The Rams hadn’t won a championship since the 1950s. The Raiders created some fever during their short stay in town in the mid-1980s, and the Clippers? Well, let’s just say the Clippers are acting a little out of character right now. They do look good, but talk to me after the playoffs. After Jerry Buss bought the Lakers, Los Angeles became perennial winners.

Jerry Buss brought a swagger to the Lakers, and a Lakers game became more than a basketball game. It was an event. Every game. Every season.

Winning only made the game more exuberant and the fans more fanatical. Laid back was gone forever (though they still leave the games early). There has never been a fever in Los Angeles like Laker fever since Jerry Buss bought the team. He introduced the Laker girls, the NBA’s version of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. People thought it was corny when he first did it. Now you can’t imagine a Lakers game without the Laker girls, or the exaggerated “lights out” introductions, or the live music from USC band, or the hip hop samples during parts of the game. Showtime wasn’t only on the court, Jerry Buss made sure there was always a show off the court while the game was on pause. There was “Dancing Barry.” There was “Dog Man” that barked at opposing team’s freethrow shooters. There is the ever popular “Kiss Me” fancam, all activities that held (holds) your attention as much (or more) than the game. 

Randy Newman’s song, “I Love L.A.” is a piece of cultural curiosity that came out of Showtime when the Lakers pulled out a close game in the Showtime era. Showtime is associated with the Magic Johnson era when the Lakers won five championships in eight seasons. They went to the finals eight times in eleven seasons. The Lakers won so often, the city forgot what it was like not to be in the finals. We got spoiled winning and being entertained.

After Magic retired (the second time), the Lakers went into a five season lull. Then Jerry Buss did what he had to do. He hired the winningest coach in basketball, Phil Jackson, whose previous employer didn’t think he was worth $10 million dollars a season, even after winning six championships in seven seasons with the Chicago Bulls. They would’ve won seven out of seven had Michael Jordan not retired for a year to play baseball. The point is that Phil knew how to win, and so did Jerry Buss. Money was no object.

Phil bought us five more championships in seven seasons. People hated the Lakers so much, other stadiums chanted, “Beat L.A., Beat L.A.,” to whatever team from the eastern conference that would be playing L.A. in the finals. That was how it was. People are going crazy, including Kobe, because it doesn’t appear the Lakers are playoff bound. It’s not because the Busses didn’t open up their checkbooks. They have the best talent. Now they have to learn how to win again because Lakerland now expects nothing less, as Kurt Rambis and Mike Brown found out.

They do need a coach…but the point is, the Lakers will win again because it is now part of their culture. They expect it. The city expects it. And it’s all because of the winningest NBA owner of all-time brought us ten championships over the last 24 years, and that changed the way the city saw the Lakers. Now every team in the NBA has cheerleaders, light flashs, music, halftime shows to create an enriched “fan experience.” That’s a fancy name for showtime off the court.

Jerry Buss, you will be missed. Thank you for the ride.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Twitter @dranthonysamad. Click here to contact Dr. Samad.