Today the NBA lost one of its best owners in Dr. Jerry Buss to kidney failure, a complication of cancer.
Dr. Buss has done a lot for the league, most notably bringing the Los Angeles Lakers back to prominence. It is in this capacity that the seeds of what the NBA is today in terms of branding, player treatment, entertainment on the court and a commitment to excellence were laid and grown. The results of this can be seen today when looking at the Miami Heat.
It was Dr. Buss who gave a young Pat Riley a shot at being a head coach, even if it was just to appease his young superstar, Magic Johnson. Once in the head coaching spot, Riley learned all he could about how a sports franchise should be run from Dr. Buss until he left the Lakers to coach the New York Knicks. Riley wanted a chance to run the Knicks the way he learned how to from Dr. Buss and when the Dolan family denied him that shot in the summer of 1995 he found another owner and team who would in a young Micky Arison and Heat franchise. Today the chance that both Riley and Arison took in each other is being rewarded because of what Riley learned from Dr. Buss.
Dr. Buss brought in the concept of the Laker Girls to the NBA. Today the Heat Dancers are regarded as arguably the best in the league and have a working relationship with the best female sports dancers in China.
Dr. Buss ushered in an atmosphere where celebrities would become regulars at Laker games. Today the Heat have some of the biggest celebrities in entertainment and sports among its season ticket holders and have recently opened a posh night club inside American Airlines Arena for parties after games.
The biggest lesson that Dr. Buss taught though, was the lesson of treating everyone like family. It is almost impossible to find someone who had a bad comment to say about Dr. Buss when he was alive, let alone today. He held everyone that played for him from Kobe Bryant to Kwame Brown in high regard and he showed as much loyalty to his players and front office as possible. That lesson has stuck with Riley the most and it has shown throughout his tenure with the Heat.
It is that atmosphere of family that brought Alonzo Mourning to Miami and allowed him to come back to the franchise even after leaving for free agency. It is that atmosphere that kept Dwyane Wade in Miami through the lean years after he led the Heat to its first championship in franchise history. It is that atmosphere that made Udonis Haslem walk away from more lucrative offers to stay with the Heat. It is that atmosphere that has has former Heat players and employees talk about the franchise being a world-class organization.
Most of all, it is that atmosphere that led to the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ to come together in the Summer of 2010.
When Riley met with LeBron James and Chris Bosh he sold them on the concept of the Heat being a family rather than just a business. It was that concept that persuaded James, Wade, and Bosh to accept deals much less lucrative than what was available from other teams such as the Knicks and the Chicago Bulls in order to build the roster around them. That faith has been rewarded with two straight trips to the NBA Finals and one championship so far.
This blueprint wasn’t Riley’s creation alone. He saw how Dr. Buss was able to bring in superstars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Johnson together and not let their egos get in the way for the betterment of the team. So in a way the Heat would not be franchise it is today and would not have a ‘Big Three’ without the lessons that Riley learned from Dr. Buss.
For that alone, the city of Miami is grateful. Rest in Peace Dr. Buss, Rest in Peace.