Los Angeles, A Tale of Two Owners

Clippers Lakers NBA logosMost of you are already aware of the professional basketball’s recent fiasco, so we won’t exhaust that topic any more than we have to in this space. In a nutshell, NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned 80-year-old L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling from all team and NBA-related events for life. This happened after celebrity news site TMZ released a private phone conversation between Sterling and his ex-mistress. In the convo, Sterling can be heard making insensitive remarks about African-Americans. Now, the question is not whether or not, but when Sterling is going to relinquish his ownership of the team.

At the center of this scandal was a picture of Sterling’s ex-mistress standing next to legendary L.A. Laker point guard Magic Johnson. “Don’t put him [Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games,” Sterling told his ex-mistress. When Magic found out about Sterling’s racist remarks, the 5-time NBA Champion called for Sterling’s removal and vowed to never attend a Clippers game again as long as Sterling was still the owner. When Sterling was banned, Magic sent out a celebratory tweet.

A day later, the L.A. Lakers announced that head coach Mike D’Antoni had resigned even though he had one more year left on his contract. Magic chimed in again from his Twitter account: “Happy days are here again! Mike D’Antoni resigns as the Lakers coach. I couldn’t be happier.” His comments were a continuation of his criticism of today’s post-Jerry Buss era of the Lakers, in which his son and Lakers vice president, Jim Buss, has had limited success with running the franchise and hiring the best-fit coaches.

The expectations, however, may be a bit unfair, when you consider that Jerry Buss won his 10 NBA championships with names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, and head coaches, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Jerry was also a bright personality outside of basketball arena, known for being an avid poker player who could play with the pros. After his passing, the World Poker Tour Foundation even organized the Frank Mariani & Jerry Buss No Limit Hold ‘em Poker Tournament in he and his longtime business partner’s honor.

Poker’s high-stakes environment matched the way Buss ran his teams. His earlier teams were known as the Showtime Lakers because of their pizazz and speed. Buss also had no problem with spending a lot of money on big-time players, which is why, at one time, the Lakers franchise was valued at over $1 billion. He once told the Los Angeles Times, “Anybody who makes an outlandish salary obviously attracts attention.” He didn’t mind flexing his deep pockets on the felt either. Longtime poker veteran Doyle Brunson took to Twitter to recount one of their conversations: “Dr. Buss lost $50K in a poker game. Me: ‘Sorry u lost so much.’ Him: ‘it’s ok, I could do it every day for 100 years and still be rich’. RIP Jerry”

So, what does this have to do with Donald Sterling and Clippers? Plenty. In 1979, Jerry Buss’ entry into the league as an owner was made possible with Donald Sterling’s financial assistance. In turn, Buss encouraged Sterling to buy the San Diego Clipper, which he did, in 1981, for $12.7 million. But as owners, the two led their teams with entirely different philosophies, which is why Magic Johnson has been really vocal over the past few weeks.

There were rumors that Magic Johnson and his business partners were interested in purchasing the L.A. Clippers, adding to the two other L.A franchises they already own—the Dodgers and WNBA franchise the L.A. Sparks. Some might prefer that Magic take a spot in the Lakers front office, but the most important thing for the city of Los Angeles is that the Clippers ownership changes hands and lands in the right ones. If they happen to be Magic’s, then so be it.

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