On a day when the Los Angeles Lakers lost the man who brought ten championships to Southern California since buying the team in 1979, those of us on the outside of the Lakers’ organization are learning more and more about why Jerry Buss was so special.
Six years ago, the Lakers finished 42-40 during the regular season and were beaten 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. That series loss punctuated a steady five-year decline from 2003 to 2007 that saw the Lakers win just four playoff series in five seasons after their championship three-peat from 2000 to 2002. Kobe Bryant, then 29, wasn’t happy about the direction the team was headed and publicly requested a trade in May 2007. That’s when Jerry Buss worked his magic.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Buss met with Bryant shortly before Lakers started training camp in 2007 and informed Bryant that the Lakers had come to an agreement that would send Bryant to Detroit for a package of Detroit’s core players (you have to imagine that Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince were all included) and future draft picks. Buss only needed Bryant to waive his no-trade clause and the deal would be done.
As Bryant reflected on the meeting with Yahoo! Sports on Monday, he said “It hit me that I didn’t really want to walk out on Dr. Buss.” That’s because Bryant realized that since Buss purchased the team, he’d always found a way to return the Lakers to prominence after the team’s rare flirtations with mediocrity.
In the 1991 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan won his first NBA title when his Bulls beat Magic Johnson’s Lakers in five games to formally end the Lakers’ “Showtime” era. Between 1992 and 1996, the Lakers only won one playoff series. In the Summer of 1996, Buss signed Shaquille O’Neal and traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Bryant’s draft rights and the seeds to another purple and gold dynasty were planted.
The kind of success that the Lakers have had doesn’t happen by mistake. It happens because of strong leadership at the top. Regardless of how you may feel about the 2012-13 Lakers, there’s little doubt as to why Buss found his way into the Hall of Fame in 2010.