The Winning Legacy of World Champions

It’s good to be a Lakers fan. The team doesn’t cause much heartache. In June, the NBA team clinched its second consecutive World Championship, triumphing over the Boston Celtics in Game 7. Next year, the team will vie for the coveted “three-peat,” a term Pat Riley, currently president of the Miami Heat, trademarked when he was the Lakers head coach in the 1980s. Under Riley’s watch, the Lakers never three-peated, but Head Coach Phil Jackson (whose contract was up at the end of this past season) said to count him in for 2011, so the team is in a good position to make a run for it (let’s not talk about the Heat’s new trifecta of superstars).

Jackson led the Lakers to one three-peat already, and he three-peated twice with the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was his MVP. He is hands-down the best coach in the league, and on his Lakers roster, he has Kobe Bryant, currently the best player in the league.

The dedication to greatness stretches throughout the organization all the way up to the top—team owner Dr. Jerry Buss, the greatest team owner in sports history. He also happens to be one of the most unconventional, which ultimately served to redefine convention in the NBA when he bought the team back in 1979. A competitive freewheeling gambler (poker is his game of choice) with a known penchant for whiskey-fueled late nights with young, hot girls, Buss originally found the league to be archaic. A season ticket holder himself, he knew what he as a fan wanted—namely, for the game-going experience to be spiced up. So he introduced the Laker Girls dance squad and created roped-off sections patrolled by waitresses serving cocktails, which he dubbed Senate Seats. Like most innovators, he was called crazy and irrational; some other franchise owners went so far as to say he was ruining the league, but today you won’t find an arena without luxury boxes or scantily clad halftime entertainment. To ensure the team’s competitive edge, he added Magic Johnson to his roster, which already included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and in Buss’ first year as owner, the Lakers clinched the World Champion title, only its second trophy in 25 years.

Since then, despite revolving changes in the roster and coaching staff, the Lakers racked up a record 10 NBA titles, which makes Buss not only the most successful owner in the NBA but in any professional sports league. In the 31 years that Buss has been calling the shots, the team has made it to the finals 15 times and won almost 70 percent of its games. That is an insane statistic that Buss appreciates. “It’s a tough thing in sports,” he says. “Once you’re on top, the way the system works is that they give you poor draft choices so it’s almost inevitable that you will then fall from grace.”