Lakers Insider: How Jerry Buss Put Donald Sterling in the NBA, and Vice Versa

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Lakers Insider: How Jerry Buss Put Donald Sterling in the NBA, and Vice Versa
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LOS ANGELES — If you want to look at it from a negative perspective, it would seem that longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss was the reason Donald Sterling got into the basketball business in the first place.

From a positive for Lakers fans, maybe Buss doesn't get into the basketball business without Sterling's help.

When cash-strapped for the last dollars he needed to buy the Lakers, Buss turned to Sterling in the final hours for a real-estate sale and additional funds. Buss later encouraged Sterling to buy a team, too. Here's how it was summed up in Peter Keating's 2009 profile of Sterling for ESPN The Magazine:

In the 1970s, Sterling got to know Jerry Buss, then a chemist who was also an LA real estate investor. In May 1979, Buss was set to buy the Lakers, but 15 hours before the purchase deadline he was still $2.7 million shy of the needed cash. So he called Sterling, who covered part of the shortfall by buying a group of 11 Santa Monica apartment buildings from Buss. Soon after, the San Diego Clippers were on the block, and Buss suggested his pal buy them. And so in 1981, Sterling acquired the franchise for $12.7 million.

Considering the Los Angeles Clippers might fetch $1 billion now, it wasn't so bad to have Buss as a business advisor.

Sterling's real-estate reach is so wide in Los Angeles that multiple current Lakers employees have lived in his apartment buildings. One kidded to me that he was the very first in the NBA to take a righteous stand against Sterling by years ago moving out of Sterling's building as a protest against his racial biases. I said that would be a fantastic story, if true, and he came clean and admitted the only reason he left his rent-controlled spot was for the chance to own property.

 

Jeanie Buss on Select Committee

Past relationship between Buss and Sterling or not, Buss' daughter Jeanie, president of the Lakers after Jerry's death, will have a key role in the Sterling case. She replaced her father on the NBA's 10-member advisory and finance committee, which is meeting Thursday to move forward with commissioner Adam Silver's plans to oust Sterling as Clippers owner.

It is considered essentially an executive ownership committee by Silver.

Buss' feelings about Sterling's comments were clear in her statement issued Tuesday after Silver's announcement about a lifetime ban of Sterling: "Adam was decisive, firm and compelling and showed great leadership in his condemnation of the horrible and offensive comments that have led to this action."

 

Last Lakers No. 1 Will Be Lottery Rep

LENNOX MCLENDON/Associated Press
James Worthy after the 1982 draft.

The Lakers are dipping into their rich history as they hope for good fortune in the future.

Hall of Famer James Worthy, the last Lakers No. 1 overall draft pick, will represent the team on stage at the May 20 draft lottery, which will determine how high the Lakers' rare first-round pick will be this year.

Worthy, drafted first overall out of the University of North Carolina in 1982, is now a studio analyst for the Lakers' regional TV network, Time Warner Cable SportsNet. He was outspoken even before going on the air with TWCSN about not being sold on Dwight Howard as a good fit character-wise for the Lakers in the wake of their 2012 trade for him, telling me: "I can't say I'm a huge, big Dwight Howard fan."

Now Worthy will try to help shepherd in a new Lakers star via the draft.

Buss was not inclined to do the honors at the lottery, as she did the last time the Lakers were in it in 2005. The Lakers didn't win it then—holding the 10th spot, as projected—but we saw that year that the sixth-worst team in the NBA, which the Lakers were this season, can win the lottery.

The Milwaukee Bucks landed the top pick in 2005 despite the same 6.3 percent likelihood the Lakers have now. (The Lakers have a 21.5 percent chance of moving into the top three.)

Worthy, who has pleased many Lakers fans this season with critical comments about head coach Mike D'Antoni, is serving in a purely ceremonial capacity, of course. The lottery is all about random luck, but good-luck charms nonetheless can't hurt.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have won the draft lottery two of the past three years with Nick Gilbert, son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, on the stage. The real drawing is actually held first in a separate room, off air, with accountants and team officials different from those on stage. (Insert groundless speculation here that the NBA will give the Lakers the top pick in the private room to boost the big-market and prestige team.)

But everyone else in the world finds out the draft order on stage, where Worthy will represent the Lakers. The team with the worst record has won the lottery just three times in 29 years, the last in 2004, when Orlando won the lottery and took Howard—so there are surprises, usually.

When Buss was there last time, she carried with her a small rock with Native American good-luck etchings given to her by then-boyfriend Phil Jackson, who would soon return to coach the Lakers again.

"I was hoping for a different rock," Buss kidded at the time.

Buss did eventually get engaged to Jackson at Christmas 2012, though they haven't married.

The draft is June 26 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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