David Stern Talks About the Ways in Which Jerry Buss Helped Transform the NBA, Especially Economically


Former Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame owner Jerry Buss passed away on Monday, only hours after the NBA’s best were on display for the world in its annual All-Star Game. As the league’s commissioner for the past three decades, David Stern is well aware of the many ways in which Buss helped transform the NBA into what it is today. David Stern joined Fox Sports Primetime on Fox Sports Radio to discuss the late Jerry Buss, who died on Monday, Buss’ impact on the league from an economic standpoint, the challenge in trying to compare players from different eras and the importance of championships when it comes to assessing player success.

On the late Jerry Buss helping the Lakers and the NBA transform into a larger form of entertainment:

“We overuse the word showtime, but the reality is that people came to expect that if you were gonna watch a Laker game, you were gonna see the Laker girls, you were gonna see Jack Nicholson and a parade of music, Hollywood and fashionistas, and that there’d be a really entertaining game and game entertainment at the same time.”

On Buss increasing ticket prices and that leading to a stronger economic structure for the league:

“It contributed to making it possible to change the economic model of the league. Because in 1987 or thereabouts, our entire arena infrastructure began to be rebuilt, starting I guess with the Palace at Auburn Hills. And then, in the last 30 years or so, every team has played in either a new, a rebuilt, or another new one. … And it would all be made possible by a change to the economics of the league. And really, the buildings became entertainment centers. They became entertainment palaces — video boards, enhanced lighting, restaurants and the like, suites. And the Forum of course was the precursor of most of that, and then Staples Center has taken it to the next level.”

On the difficulty of comparing players and the attention they received in different eras:

“Compared to LeBron, Russell and Chamberlain played in anonymity. There was no ESPN; there wasn’t even any network coverage to speak of beyond an occasional game or two. And to focus on Michael tends to cause us to forget Larry and Magic and each of them playing on a whole same team [their whole careers].”

On the economic growth of the game since Buss bought the Lakers:

“When Dr. Buss bought the Lakers, I dare say the revenue for the league was probably … a [little] over $100 million for all the teams. And this year, it will end up being well into the $5 billion range.”

On if championships should count when assessing a player’s career:

“They do and they should. It doesn’t take it away from someone if he doesn’t have any. There are great players — Patrick Ewing, Bob Lanier, Dominique Wilkins, Bob McAdoo — all 50-greatest material, they don’t have championships. But the reality is that it does count a bit. And Michael has six and Kobe has five and LeBron has one and the world is standing back to see how well he’s gonna do. And we saw that with Larry and Magic, how they made everyone around them better. And Michael wasn’t the Michael of Ahmad Rashad fame and deification until he started winning championships, and that’s just the reality of it.”

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