Some things just work well together. There are few sandwiches that can match up with peanut butter and jelly, nor are they many cookies that can equal the enduring combination of chocolate and sugary cream like an Oreo cookie. Dr. Jerry Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers are the same thing; they are the epitome of a great team.
Now those days are over. The longtime Lakers’ owner died of kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Monday, February 18. Buss’s death marks the end of his 32-year run as the Lakers owner and casts even more questions over the franchise’s direction.
The combination of Buss and the Lakers provided both the fans and the media with some of their greatest memories of the NBA since 1980. Who could forget the Lakers’ “Showtime” era with Magic Johnson teamed up with James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Or what about the team’s mini-dynasty with Shaquille O’Neal dominating the paint and Kobe Bryant developing into one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time?
The Lakers were a struggling team with a solid legacy when Buss took ownership in 1979, and he made it into one of the greatest franchises in the United States. His work with both the players and his front office resulted in 10 NBA titles during his reign. Thanks to Buss, there will never be a day when Lakers fans will expect less than a championship run from this team. In short, Buss was and always will be the heart of the Lakers franchise.
The question now becomes what will happen to the team in Buss’s absence? Who will step forward and lead this club into the future? The Lakers are the Lakers, which means they will always be expected to compete for a title. However, the team now has to move forward without its legendary owner and a collective bargaining agreement that clamps down on clubs that overspend more harshly than ever before. The Lakers are at a crossroads.
It’s important to note that Buss didn’t leave the cupboard bare. His son, Jim Buss, has been widely criticized for his management of the team, but he has shown a willingness to do what it takes to win. His sign-and-trade for Steve Nash and the team’s move to get Dwight Howard are proof of that.
The Lakers also have one of the best general managers in the league, Mitch Kupchak, running the front office. Furthermore, the Lakers will clear a lot of salary off the books following the 2014 season. That will open the door for the team to reload quickly with younger, more athletic talent, even if Howard chooses to leave the Lakers when this season concludes.
Still, it’s safe to be worried about the franchise’s future if you’re a Lakers fan. Jerry Buss was a one-of-a-kind owner. He rarely failed at anything he set out to do, and it will be difficult for his children to repeat that kind of success. Of course, it doesn’t help that there have already been widely-publicized issues within the team’s front office over the past 10 years. The Lakers are always dealing with drama, and someone will need to manage that drama when it arises.
The Lakers will miss Buss’s presence. The time has come to say goodbye to one of the greatest sports combinations in the last 50 years. Hopefully, someone who has as much vision and passion for success as Buss had will take step up to lead the Lakers.
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