Los Angeles Lakers: Jerry Buss and the 5 Most Influential Lakers Executives
Dr. Buss brought "Showtime" to the NBA in the form of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, winning five championships.
He then oversaw the assembly of the Shaq-Kobe and Kobe-Gasol eras that gave him five more rings to add to his other hand. But Dr. Buss was more than just an owner that hired smart and innovative executives to bring his franchise to life.
As the commissioner of the NBA so eloquently stated after his passing:
"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come," David Stern said. "More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend."
Magic Johnson, one of the greatest Lakers of all-time had this to say of Buss on ESPN:
"He was a visionary, he was a trailblazer," Johnson said during an interview on "SportsCenter." "He did things that were, at that time, people thought wasn't cool, wasn't proper. He was a man who walked the walk and talked the talk. He produced championships, because he was the most competitive owner you could ever meet in your life."
Buss was the owner who sold naming rights to his arena before that was the "in" thing to do, as he searched for ways to increase revenue. He used innovative ways to make sure eyes were always on his franchise, and his actions proved effective.
But for all that Dr. Buss provided the Los Angeles Lakers in his lifetime, lets take a look at the five individuals, and a couple honorable mentions, in the history of the franchise that influenced and guided them to where they are today.
The Jury is Still Out on Kupchak
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It is difficult to imagine that a man who has been GM of a team that has presided over five championships would only be on an honorable mentions slide for any list.
Yet the reason the jury is still out on Mitch Kupchak is that Jerry West brought in the players that guided the Lakers to those rings. All Kupchak did was take the reigns and not diminish what West had done. Until now.
Jerry Buss will be rolling in his grave when he sees how far this franchise is going to fall unless Jeanie and John Buss change directions fast. The Lakers have been impatient lately, and that impatience will undoubtedly be the downfall of this trend-setting team that Dr. Buss created.
Always a forgotten Lakers GM, Mohs was responsible for ushering the team into its new home in Los Angeles at the direction of then-owner Bob Short with only one player under contract, Elgin Baylor. Mohs also drafted a player by the name of Jerry West, who would go on to become a special Laker and an NBA icon.
So why is Mohs only on an honorable mentions slide? His team went to the playoffs in each season that Mohs was GM, but lost four NBA Finals to heated rival Boston Celtics. He was not able to put the Lakers over the hump and bring home a ring. And we all know that rings matter in L.A.
No. 5: Owner and Executive Bob Short
Bob Short acquired the Minneapolis Lakers in 1957, yet because of financial issues, needed to find a city for relocation. Although the owner of the team, Short acted as general manager and was responsible for bringing basketball great, Elgin Baylor to the roster.
The L.A. Times ranks Baylor as the 17th greatest player in L.A. sports history and claimed Short stated that the Baylor signing "saved the franchise." "If he had turned me down then, I would have been out of business," Short said in a 1971 interview with the Times. "The club would have gone bankrupt."
Short was also influential in working with Mohs in bringing possibly the most iconic basketball figure to the NBA: its logo, Jerry West. When the Lakers drafted West, Short helped reunite him with his former head coach Fred Schaus from West Virginia.
The two would become some of the most influential Lakers figures of all time. As an owner, Short had a vision upon moving to Los Angeles, while some of his methods may have seemed unorthodox at the time.
Short went on record stating that he "will never again let a player retire from my roster...the Lakers cannot afford that kind of luxury." This was in response to complaining about the Lakers previous owners not selling George Mikan and Jim Pollard.
Short ushered in the new age of the Lakers as his team consistently went to the playoffs and finals, although the road to a ring took a little longer than expected.
Without Short, though, the Lakers most likely would have never moved to L.A. and enjoyed the success of the following decades of dominance in the NBA.
No. 4: Pete Newell
Pete Newell-LA Times
Although only a general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers for four years ('72-'76), Pete Newell changed the face of the franchise forever.
He was the catalyst for the trade that brought Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers from the Milwaukee Bucks. This transaction was the beginning of what was to be a long and successful path towards building the Lakers into a pillar of the NBA.
Newell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame himself as a contributor, also was the founder of the Pete Newell Big Man Camp. This camp is a training ground that has welcomed over 250 NBA players in its 36 years of existence.
Although Newell, who left us at the age of 93 in 2008, was a brief member of the Lakers, it is no doubt that if his deal for Abdul-Jabbar was not finalized, this franchise might never have become the powerhouse that fans would see for the next three decades.
No. 3: Fred Schaus
Fred Schaus was the first head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after their move from Minneapolis, brought in by then-owner Bob Short. He proved to be a successful coach, guiding his team to the playoffs with star player Jerry West in each of his seasons.
Schaus then left the bench in 1967 to become general manager of the Lakers. This move propelled him to the top three of this list as he became the first executive to assemble a championship team for this franchise in 1972.
The Lakers franchise record 69 win season that year would stand as the benchmark for success in the NBA and would not be topped for nearly a quarter of a century. The team that surpassed the Lakers? None other than the 72 win 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, led by a pretty good player named Michael Jordan.
Schaus was the man who brought in Bill Sharman to coach their championship squad that he put together. He was instrumental in trading for Wilt Chamberlain, drafting players such as Jim Cleamons and Jim McMillian, and also purchased from the Portland Trailblazers another future Lakers icon, Pat Riley.
The moves that Schaus put into motion for the Lakers prepared them for the success they were about to embark upon after he stepped down. As GM, Schaus could never have known that the lives he touched would unleash upon the NBA a new era called "Showtime" under his players, Jerry West and Pat Riley.
No. 2: Bill Sharman
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If it wasn't for the man on the next slide, this would be a no-brainer as to the most influential executive in Lakers history.
Bill Sharman is usually mentioned as one of the Lakers executives that people remember. If not for him, "Showtime" never happens. Let me explain.
Sharman is considered the Lakers "good luck charm." With the 1979 NBA draft looming, against his initial trepidation, he allowed Chicago Bulls GM Rod Thorn to call the coin flip to determine the order in which they were to pick.
Thorn called Sharman's beloved "heads," and when it was announced "tails," the first pick in the draft belonged to the Lakers. Sharman elected to draft a player by the name of Earvin Johnson.
In 1983, even though he wasn't the GM, Sharman and his luck was called upon again to decide heads or tails in a flip with the San Diego Clippers. His lucky "heads" call led to the Lakers being able to draft another future hall of fame player: James Worthy.
In an interview with the L.A. Times:
"I feel that I have been lucky all of my life," Sharman wrote. "How many people get to do what they love for their entire career? I have tried to be as positive a representative for the Lakers that I can be through the years, and I think that positive thinking and trying to do the right thing also brings along some luck with it."
So no matter what other GM's had done in the past for the Lakers, there was none before Sharman that built the Lakers legacy into what it had become. He stayed on with the Lakers as a special consultant and also club president after his stint as GM ended in 1982.
That was the year the most influential executive in Lakers history took the reigns. He is the NBA. He played for the Lakers his whole career and was directly influenced by men such as Fred Schaus and Bill Sharman. That man is...
No. 1: Jerry West
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...none other than Jerry West. As stated before, his likeness can be seen in the logo of the NBA. He played his entire career for the Lakers. How would that have ended if Bob Short had still owned the team?
Although West became GM after the acquisitions of Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, he was the executive that brought Pat Riley back to the Lakers as head coach. He also drafted or traded for the remaining pieces that delivered the Lakers next four championships in the 1980s.
West built "Showtime." West ushered in the era of the Lakers becoming the most winningest franchise over the next three decades. According to the L.A. Times, "Speaking to Investor's Business Daily, West said of his love of basketball: 'I've never worked a day in my life.'"
Ask anyone with even the most remote knowledge of the NBA, never mind just the Lakers, and they will be able to at least know the name Jerry West.
West did not stop with just the 80s Lakers. When that run had stopped, he made sure his legacy was left with a run of five more championships when all was said and done. West worked it out to bring Shaquille O'Neal to the Lakers while drafting Kobe Bryant. That combo led to a three-peat after West wooed coach Phil Jackson to lead his team after helping the Bulls win six NBA titles.
To this day, even though West has an ownership part with the Golden State Warriors, remnants of West's style has spread through the touch of current GM Mitch Kupchak.
The Lakers have added two more championship banners to the rafters in the Staples Center, due to Kobe Bryant remaining on the roster.
Other than Dr, Buss, there has been no other Laker as West. He will forever be given the designation of most influential executive in this storied franchise's history.