Lakers owner still enjoying Hall of Fame induction
BELL GARDENS, Calif. (AP)
Relishing the afterglow of being inducted into the Hall of Fame last week, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss was candid, funny and reflective when sharing his thoughts on his life, his team and the Miami Heat.
Buss, a poker aficionado who plays an average of six times a month, discussed the topics before hosting the Mariani/Buss Charity Open poker tournament at the Bicycle Casino on Tuesday.
''I'm still on a very big high right now,'' Buss said. ''I'm wearing my (Lakers championship) ring and the whole mysterious event (being inducted) continues to monopolize my thoughts.
''I've been very fortunate in being surrounded by Hall of Fame people.''
He has been the one smart enough to spend the requisite money to acquire the talent required to be successful.
Since he took ownership in 1979, the storied franchise has won 10 NBA titles including this year's that ended by beating the archrival Boston Celtics.
Buss said he was happy with the moves, but insisted the maneuvering wasn't done to counter the blockbuster signings made by the Miami Heat or any other team.
''Our intentions were to sign those players prior to Miami coalescing all of the talent that was leftover,'' Buss joked. ''I don't think we reacted to them.
''Once the season is over we looked backwards in a season and say, were there any weaknesses? Could we do something to improve this team, and we did that quite independently of Miami, or Orlando or Chicago, all of whom are going to be very good. I think we just prepared ourselves for the general war, not specifically for anybody.''
Yet Buss sheepishly admitted that he gave into watching the hour-long LeBron James television spectacle in which the former Cleveland Cavaliers star renounced his hometown and announced he would sign with the Heat even though he had previously decided against it.
''Like everyone else, I was curious so I did watch it,'' Buss said.
Given the devastating affect James' decision had on the team and the city, Buss had ''mixed emotions'' about James' departure and felt he ''let down a lot of people and it seemed kind of sad.''
As an owner and competitor, however, Buss was energized at the prospect of having to play the Heat, who also signed the two other biggest free agents on the market, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He also proclaimed that next June when the finals are played, the Heat might not be the team the Lakers have to worry about the most.
''Suddenly there's this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me,'' Buss said. ''That really excites me because quite honestly, I think we can beat them.
''I'm looking forward to playing them. I don't think it's automatic that Miami will be our biggest opponent come the end, but on the other hand I must admit they have the world's attention and that means we're going to be on center stage when we get a chance to play them.''
The moves made in Miami weren't the only ones that caught Buss's attention.
Boston's recent acquisition of former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, who teamed with Kobe Bryant to win three rings, immediately spiced up the rivalry due to the stars' mercurial relationship.
''Shaq and Kobe have a little thing going as to who wins the most rings and so Shaq signing with Boston sets up a potential showdown,'' Buss said. ''I like the drama.
''I think it's fabulous. You can't help but love Shaq. He's a very friendly man. Sometimes he gets a little carried away in his analysis of former employers, but that said, he's quite a guy and we look forward to it.''
Searching for a coach to replace Hall of Famer Phil Jackson after this season isn't a task that Buss has been eager to tackle.
Though Jackson, who has led the Lakers and Bulls to 11 championships and been hampered by various health issues, announced that this would be his last season, Buss preferred to keep hope alive.
''I'm not one of those doomsday people that look forward to big problems,'' Buss said. ''Hopefully he will go through this year and find out that he's discovered the fountain of youth and who knows, he may continue after that.
''He says no. But who knows?''
At the moment, there is one certainty in Buss's mind.
If everybody remains healthy, he feels this ''could be the best team we've ever had'' and anything less than winning a third straight championship will be a disappointment.
''You hate to say it, but that's what it comes down to,'' Buss said. ''You get to a spot where, you have to win it all to be happy.
''Some time ago, talking to some people, they wanted a bonus if the Lakers made the playoffs. I said, `Bonus? If we don't make the playoffs, you don't work here anymore.'''