LA Lakers: Where Does Jerry Buss Rank Among the NBA's All-Time Great Owners?
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In professional sports, the less the owner is seen and/or heard, usually, the more successful the franchise is. The best owners simply hire people who know their respective leagues to put together rosters, manage salary caps and coach players.
Meddlesome is mostly a bad word in these circles; the winningest owners are the ones who get out of the way while still showing enough of a financial commitment to ensure his or her team's competitiveness year in and year out.
Throughout its 66 year history, the NBA has featured a wide variety of ownerships, some far more colorful than others, many meddlesome, several ineffectual. But there have been a handful of owners over the years whose work has not only enhanced the reputation, financial standing and historical resonance of their teams, but the entire league as well. Here's a list of some of the best owners in NBA history.
1. Jerry Buss, L..A. Lakers
Buss being interviewed at halfcourt following a championship win has become a familiar site over the years.
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Buss bought the Lakers (along with the NHL's Kings and the the arena which for a long time housed both franchises, the Forum) from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 and has hardly looked back. Since becoming the Lakers principal owner, the franchise has won 10 championships, by far the most in the league over that span of time.
The Lakers, currently the most valuable team in the NBA, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $900 million, have managed three separate dynasties under Buss' ownership. Additionally, his team has at least reached the NBA Finals nine times from 1980-1991, four times from 2000-2004 and three more times from 2008-2010.
Buss, a doctor who has a PhD and an MS in physical chemistry, bought the team for $67.5 million (which was then the largest financial transaction in the history of pro sports) only to see that investment grow by well over 1,000 percent.
No wonder the L.A. Times recently called him, "the most successful owner in sports history."
2. Walter Brown, Boston
Brown (middle) was the first owner of the Celtics.
The first owner of the Celtics, Brown founded the team in 1945, hired Red Auerbach, who would go on to become the second most successful coach in NBA history, to coach and run it prior to the 1950-1951 season, oversaw a run of six titles in seven seasons before his passing in September of 1964 and had the league's championship trophy named after him from the year of his death until 1977.
Brown's influence on the Celtics lived on well after his death. Auerbach would preside over 16 championships, 10 as head coach and six as team president, with the team becoming the most storied, honored franchise in the NBA over that stretch.
3. Peter Holt, San Antonio
Holt has a reputation as one of the NBA's most fiscally responsible owners.
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Holt, who first invested in the Spurs in 1993, is the CEO of Holt Cat, which is the biggest Caterpillar dealership in the country. Six years after buying the franchise, the Spurs won their first NBA title in 1999, and would go on to secure three more, in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
When Holt and his team of investors bought the Spurs from Red McCombs, they paid an estimated $75 million. Today, the team is worth $418 million, according to USA Today, and is the ninth most valuable franchise in the NBA.
Holt also oversaw the construction of the Spurs current home, the AT&T Center, in 2002 at a cost of $175 million. He has never crossed the league's luxury tax threshold yet still managed to preside over those four championship campaigns.
4. Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago
Reinsdorf has developed somewhat of a reputation for being cheap, but it's hard to argue with his success.
Reinsdorf officially became chairman of the Bulls on March 13, 1985, less than a year after the team drafted Michael Jordan. Pretty good timing, eh?
Reinsdorf and his investors paid $16 million for the Bulls, who are now worth $600 million. The team averaged just under 7,000 fans per game when Reinsdorf took over; within just over two years, it began a sellout streak that lasted 12 years.
A lot of the credit for this success lies with Jordan, who along with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, coach Phil Jackson and a host of role players, won six championships from 1991-1998.
Although some controversy swirled around Reinsdorf and his former general manager Jerry Krause when Jordan, Jackson and Pippen all left the Bulls following the 1997-1998 season and the team's sixth title (Time Magazine referred to Reinsdorf as, "a cheapskate"), the fact remains that under his regime, the team has been one of the most successful NBA franchises.
On its list of the 100 most powerful Chicagoans, Chicago Magazine ranks Reinsdorf No. 14, calling him, "arguably the most masterful negotiator the sports world has ever seen."
5. Mark Cuban, Dallas
Cuban's lavish spending and unconventional ways finally landed him the Mavs first championship last year.
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The Internet billionaire turned high-profile NBA owner, Cuban purchased the Mavericks on January 4, 2000, and there's been no one like him in the league's ownership ranks either before or since.
Cuban hit it big back in 1999 when his former company Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.9 billion. This sale emboldened him to buy the Mavs, who won 69 percent of their games over the next 10 seasons, made the playoffs each year and reached the Finals twice, last season netting the franchise its first ever championship.
Cuban, who has been fined well over $1.5 million during his ownership of the team, paid $285 million for for the Mavs back in 2000. The team is now worth $497 million according to Forbes, and Cuban's net worth stands at $2.3 billion.
6. Harold Katz, Philadelphia
Katz was at his happiest during his first couple of seasons as head of the Sixers regime.
A businessman from the Greater Philadelphia area, Katz bought the 76ers in July of 1981 and immediately oversaw two straight trips to the Finals with the second one, after the 1982-1983 season, resulting in a championship. It was the Sixers first title since 1967.
After winning that championship, Katz gave the thumbs up to the Sixers drafting of Charles Barkley in 1984 and the team reached the Eastern Conference finals that season before falling to the Celtics. In 1986, Katz reached a level of infamy in the Philly sports community, trading both Moses Malone and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
The Sixers would manage to make the playoffs in six of the next eight seasons, but they never got out of the second round and Katz would wind up trading Barkley in June of 1992 for virtual pennies on the dollar.
Katz sold the team to Comcast Spectator, his popularity after his first two years on the job long since replaced after the trades of 1986 and the Barkley deal. Still, it's hard to argue with his place on this list given his massive early success after purchasing the franchise.
7. Larry Miller, Utah
Miller (right) owned the Jazz for 23 years until his death in 2009.
A lifelong denizen of Salt Lake City, Miller bought half of the Jazz in April of 1985, then bought the other 50 percent in June of 1986 at a total of $26.8 million.
The Jazz never once made the playoffs until the 1983-1984 season but at that point, began a run of 20 straight seasons as a postseason participant. Six years into that streak and three into Miller's ownership of the team, he hired Jerry Sloan, who would go on to coach the team for 23 years, win 1,127 games and lead the franchise to its only two Finals appearances in 2007 and 2008, both resulting in losses to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Miller died in February, 2009, of complications due to type II diabetes. Last February, Sloan retired from coaching. One wonders if Miller had lived, would Sloan have stayed on longer.
Miller's son Greg is now the Jazz's principal owner. According to Forbes, the team's value currently stands at $335 million.
8. Jack Kent Cooke, Lakers
Cooke built the Forum with his own money and the Lakers would play there for 30 years.
A Canadian by birth, Cooke owned the Lakers from 1965-1979, reached seven NBA Finals and won one championship in 1972. When he bought the team, he paid what was then a league record $5,175,000.
Cooke, who also owned the NFL's Washington Redskins, was in charge when the Lakers imported Wilt Chamberlain from Philadelphia and also personally financed the Forum, where the Lakers and the NHL's Kings (another pro team he owned), played from 1967 until 1999, for $16.5 million.
One of Cooke's more notable moments as Lakers owner was the commission of a giant haul of balloons to fall from the Forum rafters following Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics. What Cooke didn't count on was the Celtics winning, but the balloons fell anyway, celebrating the visitors accomplishment.
Cooke sold the Lakers to Buss in 1979 for $67.5 million. He passed away in 1997.
9. Wyc Grousbeck, Boston
In 2008, Grousbeck's ownership group oversaw the Celtics first title since 1986.
Grousbeck, a Massachusetts native and former venture capitalist, co-founded the group Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C. that bought the C's from Paul Gaston for $360 million in 2002.
The purchase, after a couple of lean years, brought the Celtics out of the doldrums of NBA irrelevance and put them back on the map as one of the premier franchises in the league. Following a run of four straight playoff appearances (after six consecutive years without one) that coincided with Grousbeck's buying of the team, the Celts backslid a bit before the 2007 trade that changed everything.
When Grousbeck signed off on the deal that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston in exchange for Al Jefferson and a variety of flotsam and jetsam, the Celtics reclaimed their position among the league's elite. They won their then-record 17th NBA title after that season and just missed out on their 18th two years later, with two other playoff appearances sandwiched around those two Finals appearances.
Forbes lists the total value of the Celtics at $482 million, a nice uptick from the sum Grousbeck and his partners paid for the team 10 years ago. Celtics fans probably appreciate the team's consistent spot near the top of the NBA standings for the majority of Grousbeck's ownership even more.
10. Leslie Alexander, Houston
Alexander has overseen 11 playoff berths and two championships in his 18 years owning the Rockets.
Alexander, who was named the NBA's best owner by Forbes in 2008, has seen his investment grow in a major way in his nearly 20 years of owning the Rockets. According to USA Today, he spent $85 million on the team and its now worth in excess of $450 million. He also oversaw the construction of the Rockets current home, the Toyota Center, which they moved into in 2003 after years of playing at the Summit.
Houston has made the playoffs 11 times under Alexander's ownership but hasn't seen the postseason since 2009. Under first-year coach Kevin McHale, the fourth coach hired by Alexander during his tenure, the Rockets are on pace to return and play for a third NBA title for Alexander.