Jerry Buss: Was the Lakers legend the best owner in sports?

We’ve heard a lot in the past week from ESPN about Michael Jordan on MJ’s 50th birthday. Most of what we heard was that Jordan was the best basketball player of all time.

Well, that may be true. But as far as owners go, Dr. Jerry Buss was the Michael Jordan of owners.

Buss, who died today at what is reported to be either 79 or 80 years old, bought the Lakers in 1979, along with the Los Angeles Kings, the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood and some other land from Jack Kent Cooke. The price was $67 million. The Lakers are worth about $1 billion these days.

RELATED: Jerry Buss dead at 80

Dr. Jerry Buss (AP photo)

Since Buss bought the team, the Lakers have won 10 NBA championships and missed the playoffs just twice. Buss, a noted playboy in his time, never let anything get in the way of making his team better. He spent money, hired smart people like Jerry West to run the basketball operations and basically did everything he could to give the fans a great product.

Yes, there was some good fortune in the Buss era. The team was able to draft players like Magic Johnson and James Worthy. But there were smart moves too, like trading Vlade Divac for a high school kid named Kobe Bryant, or drafting a lot for the right to Orlando’s center Shaq O’Neal. Buss (his Ph.D was in physical chemistry from USC) was willing to pull the trigger on all those deals and more.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, The Lakers trained sporadically at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. Magic, Kareem, Big Game James and the other Lakers would roam the COD campus like the giants of sports they were, with fans clamoring outside the COD gym for a glimpse or maybe an autograph. It was show time, and the Lakers were the center of the sports universe. The team would stay at the Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs, which Buss owned. Those who met Buss in the desert at the time, often at the hotel and often with a different beautiful woman on his arm from the last time he was in the desert, found him to be a nice and honest man with none of the potential faults of being rich and famous.

Eventually the Lakers stopped training at COD because Buss decided to reward the team by having them train in Hawaii. Buss sold the Kings and the Forum, but held on to the Lakers, one of the passions of his life along with the good life, beautiful women and poker.

In the last two years, as Buss battled cancer, you could see what his importance to the team was. With other people making decisions and Buss not in the day-to-day operations, the Lakers began to struggle.

When you think of owners in sports, you might think of George Steinbrenner of the Yankees, or maybe Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots or maybe Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks. But if you think about winners as owners, the name that ought to be at the top of every list is Dr. Jerry Buss.

Maybe Jordan was just the Jerry Buss of basketball players.