David Stern will retire as NBA commissioner next spring after a long run with the league that started full time when he was hired as the NBA's general counsel in 1978, one year before Dr. Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers.
Both the Lakers and the league as a whole experienced incredible growth and success in that time and Stern and Buss developed a strong friendship.
Stern called in to the "Mason & Ireland Show" on ESPNLA 710 radio on Tuesday to share his memories of Dr. Buss:
In regards to what made Buss a great sports owner, in his opinion:
“Well, he used those numbers and other intuitive features to judge basketball players and to judge those who work for him. We must not forget, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak have done quite well for Jerry and in addition, as a business man, he understood what it would do to raise ticket prices to the Forum, to give Magic (Johnson) a contract that was outsized by any standard and he used those talents to learn everything there was to learn and make many suggestions about our league and how it should be run.”
On how the NBA would be different had there not been Buss' influence:
“I don’t know whether he led it, or innovated it, or he just flat out changed everything because we’ll never know, but for example, he looked at ticket prices and told us that everybody was pricing the best seats in the house wrong. The supply was limited and the demand would be unlimited and he changed the pricing structure. Would we ultimately have reached that conclusion a decade or so later? Maybe, probably, but he led it and then one fine day, long before there was a salary cap, Jerry thought it’d be a good idea to pay Magic Johnson a million dollars a year for 25 years, an outrageous amount of money that caused some owners to seriously consider selling their teams because this was so nuts. Of course it wasn’t nuts at all, it was, as Jerry said, he was making even a bigger star out of Magic and he realized what Magic could do with the franchise. There were many examples like that, Jerry did them all.”
In regards to how Buss was able to sell his ideas to other owners in league, ex: Laker girls, seating prices, etc.:
"I don’t think he forced his will; he led by example. I don’t remember any blow back on ticket pricing, just a lot of scratching of heads. On the Laker girls, my goodness gracious, I always say that Red Auerbach had the Celtics as the last team that didn’t have cheerleaders. And on the day they were supposed to launch, Red decided it was time to leave this Earth. Go check the records, Red was consistent for all of those years. He didn’t think there should be cheerleaders and he used to push at me for not being strong enough, or whatever it was. That was his pet peeve, but Jerry did it by example. ... With the business of basketball, and even though it says he didn’t meddle, I think that it’s fair also to say that he was the basketball presence of the Lakers, as well, because all decisions went through him. "
In relation to the Chris Paul trade and whether it was an issue with Buss:
“Not even an issue. We had a discussion about why he thought it was good for his team to do what they planned to do and someday I’ll tell everyone what he said about that, but then he also said he understood what I did and there was no rancor of any kind and we had … because we have been having a steady of conversation about collective bargaining and revenue sharing -- because of course Jerry was quite interested in that subject because much of it could be sought to be directed at the Lakers, because they were the largest-grossing team and other teams were going to be sharing in some of that and they were going to be, if they kept their payroll intact, the largest payer of tax because the tax was going up. But Jerry understood that it was in the best interest of the league and his wish was that his partners treated the Lakers fairly because he had always been a good league man.”
In relation to when Stern first saw greatness in Buss:
“It’s just a solid business acumen, time after time. Player drafting, player signing, business practices, being a fixture on the advisory finance committee, being a fixture on important collective bargaining committees and throughout it all, all I can tell you is, he took great pride in what his children were doing and even though I hear the word flamboyant, he was actually, people would find this hard to believe, a modest intellectual to me at many times and he was a thorough delight to have as a friend and an owner.”