Jerry Buss Goes Into Hall of Fame

If you think he's just a poker-playing ladies man, you've missed how he changed the game.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Oct. 30, 2006: Owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jerry Buss (center), poses with the Lakers Girls cheerleaders, after being honored with a television star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

    Jerry Buss does love to play poker. Jerry Buss does love to date women you wish you could date, women often a few decades his junior.

    He's known for that. He also should be known as the best owner in the NBA, a guy who changed how the game was presented and marketed.

    Those are the reasons he is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday.

    It's a well-deserved honor, and not just because the Lakers have won a lot under him. Although make no mistake, the Lakers have won a lot and that is part of the reason he got the call to the Hall.

    Since Buss bought the Lakers in 1979, the franchise have won 10 NBA titles, they have been to the finals 16 times. They have been home to legends of the game such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant.

    The Lakers success on the court has helped make them the biggest sports team in town. The Dodgers success has been intermittent and every owner after the O'Mally family has seemed like a disaster until the next one upped the ante. There is no NFL, hasn't been for the better part of a generation.

    Meanwhile the Lakers just kept on winning and kept on putting on a good show, and they filled the sports vacuum in this town.

    Despite all that, it is really what Buss did off the court that earned him entrance into the Hall. And no, we're not talking about who he dates.

    When he bought the Lakers, the NBA treated basketball as, well, basketball. The league sold the game, it sold the steak. Buss realized that what he owned was an entertainment enterprise that happened to sell basketball. It needed some sizzle.

    So in came the Laker Girls. In came Dancing Barry (a guy in top hat and tails who would dance through the crowd 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.

    This wasn't just a game anymore, it was a show. You were invited to be a part of it. It couldn't have happened without Magic and his bigger-than-life personality on the court, 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. Dallas Mavericks owner 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.

    But Buss was the first. And that's why he is in the Hall of Fame now. As he should be.