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LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 12: Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss appears before his team's preseason game against the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center October 12, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Without Jerry Buss in it, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was a bit of a sham. It was not living up to its name.
It became official Monday morning —Jerry Buss will be part of the incoming class for the Hall. He will be inducted along with Bulls legend Scottie Pippen and Jazz star Karl Malone (who spent one memorable season in Los Angeles), the Dream Team and others.
Buss bought the Lakers in 1979, along with the Los Angeles Kings, the Forum and a ranch in Montana for $67.5 million. Turns out, that was a steal. Buss eventually has sold off all the other assets, but he and his family kept the Lakers, which are now estimated to be worth about $500 million.
Buss’ success on the court with the Lakers is unparalleled. Since he bought the team, the Lakers have won nine NBA titles (almost one out of every three), 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.
But it is really what Buss did off the court that earned him entrance into the Hall.
When he bought the Lakers basketball was treated 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 (which seems quaint now but was a revolution back in the day). The Forum Club was established so celebrities had a place to throw back a martini before, after and frankly 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. 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.
It worked in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are now the center of the sports world. With no NFL in the last 16 years in the city, a generation has grown up knowing only the Lakers. And knowing largely only success. This is a Lakers town today.
Also 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 stake.
Every team owes some of that to Jerry Buss. That is why Buss belongs in the Hall of Fame. That is why what comes today is not only deserved but feels delayed. But Lakers fans will take it.