I was initially going to write today’s piece on sporting legends. Some of them have been in the news recently; those you truly appreciate, eg Michael Jordan, or because of the sport they’re involved in, you know of them, but never quite gravitate towards their greatness, admiring it from afar … think Black Caviar.
However, LA Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss passed away overnight, leaving a gaping hole in the NBA landscape and a Russian meteor sized crevasse in the heart and soul of a team I truly love.
Coinciding with James Hird’s role or complete negligence in his lack of a role in the Bombers’ drugs debacle, the figurehead of the other team I love may also be on his way out.
Losing people who define your team is jarring and there is a great fear in the future. So the legends can wait for now, as we need a little back story.
Doctor Jerry Buss
Jerry Buss was the first party boy owner that the NBA knew. Earning a PhD in Physical Chemistry (of all things!) as a young man, $1,000 in an apartment building complex took him on the road to wealth. Within 20 years, he was a multimillionaire and in 1979, for $67.5 million, bought the LA Lakers basketball team, LA Kings ice hockey team and The Forum, the arena in which they played…
The Lakers alone are valued at over $1 billion right now. Not bad for a grand to start with!
Buss was truly LA. He loved to party, have fun, drink, play poker … you name it. And the beauty of it was that the Lakers team reflected the owner’s character. It also didn’t hurt one bit that in his first season as owner, he happened to draft the greatest point guard of all time – Magic Johnson – who also happens to be the one Laker to have given me his autograph – in your face Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The ‘Showtime’ era was born, with the team playing at a breathtaking pace, behind their rookie phenom.
Yet there was substance to their style. In the very first season with Magic and Buss, the Lakers went all the way to the championship. Not just the Finals, but the actual title, which was clinched without our bald, old, grumpy, goggles wearing centre, with Magic ‘chipping in’ with a meagre 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists, while playing at centre instead of the point.
A legend was born … well, two, really.
Buss surrounded himself with the right people throughout his tenure. Jerry West, whose silhouette is the actual logo of the NBA, ran the team as general manager. He did so with grace and character. In a feeble world, both were as highly respected as any back office workers in team sports.
It didn’t hurt one bit that the city of Los Angeles had factors working for it that other franchises could not compete with – the weather, women, parties, celebrities, the beach, Hollywood connections…
Players wanted to play in LA, for Buss and West, with Magic. And the stars came in their droves; Shaq, Kobe, and more recently, Dwight Howard.
These unique factors took LA to ten titles during Buss’ tenure. Ten! The most winningest franchise since he took over. Sorry, I’m starting to sound like a Hawthorn supporter. The Celtics still have us overall … just!
But all great leaders have weaknesses.
Buss’ legacy will be his.
Over to Mongolia
At the moment, I’m reading a phenomenal series of books on Genghis Khan, ‘The Great Conqueror’, by Conn Iggulden. (* Spoiler alert on this series for the next three paragraphs, which I cannot highly recommend more highly…)
Genghis, a phenomenal warrior, united the Mongol tribes and took them north into the Chin territory, and west into the Arab world.
Yet his father’s negligence in not clearly marking out his successor, erupted into violence in his tribe and his family at his father’s murder, with his tribe abandoning him and Genghis and his brother Kachiun killing their older brother, Bekter, who was not sharing food while the family starved to death.
Yet the same neglect that afflicted him as a boy reared its ugly head in Genghis’ parenting, with a saddening divide between his eldest son, Jochi and his less deserving yet favoured younger brother, Chagatai.
Ok, I’m moving away from Mongolian warriors, as I’m slightly addicted … can you tell!?
My point is that Buss’ legacy is in the hands of a young, clueless playboy son when it should be solely in the hands of his more discerning daughter, Jeannie. Check out the young buck accepting the trophy after our 2009 triumph. The words ‘astute’ and ‘graceful’ don’t really spring to mind now, do they?! I’m surprised David Stern didn’t have a sniper take him out there and then. He can do this, you know…
Jim’s sins involve an inability to draft or trade to help out in the Lakers’ weak spots – perimeter defense, outside shooting and athleticism. Um, remember, the whole beach, parties, Hollywood connections pitch?!! If you search on Youtube under Jim Buss, two of the first four options after Jim Buss are ‘is a loser’ and ‘is an idiot’. And you can’t really argue with the internet, now, can you?!
Oh yeah, he also refused to hire the most successful coach in the history of the league, someone who could manage the talents and egos of Kobe, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, as shown in his eleven coaching titles! Young boy Buss instead hired a similarly clueless offensive minded ham and egger who has never even won a Conference Finals.
In a related story, we’re not even going to reach the playoffs this season, not making the top 8 in the West…
Yes I’m bitter.
But that’s how Buss will be remembered. As a great owner, but, unless there’s a remarkable turnaround (and you never know in the city of angels), as someone who was unable to cement his legacy in those who inherited the harvests of his flawless basketball instincts, character and personality.
At Bomberland, it’s a less indicting issue that threatens to undermine James Hird’s standing, but certainly a more negligent one. Greed and an obsession with winning can do amazing things to people, even good ones. For Hird to have turned a blind eye or been unaware of the extent to which Essendon was doing ‘whatever it takes’ with regards to peptides and injections is inexcusable. His job is understandably on the line.
Hirdy was the consummate professional at the club. His demeanour, calm character yet exquisite skills as a player and presumed leadership skills as a coach held us in good stead for the foreseeable future. Now we don’t know if that future even involves season 2013.
I was proud to be associated with the Lakers under a revered figure. As his son took over and the missteps became commonplace, that affection lessened.
I always thought James Hird stood for everything that was good about the game. Clearly he does not. Maybe he’ll survive, maybe he won’t. The care factor is considerably lower than two seasons ago, no. 5’s first at the helm.
Sometimes when people move on from your chosen team, they take away with them more than just a set of skills or a way of thinking or communicating. Their leadership, standing and success had them morph into something bigger than the team, bigger than the players, or the game, even.
It’s a different form of losing, one that can set your eyes firmly back on people in your life, you know, those people who personally inspire you and that you actually interact with.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.