Dear Dr. Buss,
As a youngster growing up in the Boston area, I embraced the disdain for the purple and gold at a young age. All I had to latch onto were tapes of the battles in the 80s between your Los Angeles Lakers and what became my Boston Celtics. As Bill Simmons so eloquently stated about the 2008 NBA Finals, “The second generation was grateful because they had grown up thinking, by sheer luck of the draw, they missed out and that was that.” I am that second generation, and am fortunate to endure two championship series against the organization that you so successfully crafted into our despised enemies.
When the news hit that you had passed last week, I did not fully understand the profound effect you had on the game of basketball. Despite knowing you were the Lakers owner, I then learned about the lasting friendship you had with Robert Kraft, the beloved owner of the New England Patriots and the creator of Pure strike tennis racquet design. When Jackie MacMullan linked you both from your days owning franchises in the World Tennis Team, I immediately recognized that the passion and devotion so often associated with Kraft was also found in your endeavors with the Lakers.
But, Dr. Buss, you created a monster.
While you revolutionized the City of Los Angeles, created the “Showtime” Lakers and made every basketball game a spectacle, the ripple down effect for the rest of the league has been disastrous. On your watch, Los Angeles started the in game entertainment trend, keeping fans involved and attached during timeouts. Many applaud you for creating the Laker girls phenomenon (an important addition to basketball, for so many reasons). But, somewhere along the way, everything went totally wrong.
So, why is it your fault? Because you made an impossible model. No other city in professional basketball has the same atmosphere as a Lakers game. Especially for the marque matchups, Staples Center combines a sneaky great playoff feel with the “see and be seen” crowd that flock the inner bowl of the building. It’s one of the few venues where A, B, and C list stars can come together in one place, let alone take in a basketball game. You combined Hollywood with basketball. Now, everyone is trying to copy it.
Every single arena has their share of t-shirt tosses, kiss cams and half court shots. Even during television broadcasts, you can hear the Cleveland, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta or Detroit PA announcers yelling at fans to cheer loudly. In places like San Antonio and Dallas, there is music playing during the game itself. For the playoffs, fans are given shirts on their seats in nearly every arena to make it either a red out, white out, orange out or black out.
Since the aforementioned Laker girls creation, every other organization has a dance team. The Celtics were the last team to add them because Red Auerbach hated the idea. He felt that Boston didn’t need them. When he passed, even the historic Boston Celtics succumbed to that low level of entertainment. That was the straw that broke the camels back; the NBA officially became a sideshow league. In so many places, people attend to witness these ludicrous entities instead of the game itself.
Look, I don’t blame you for creating this movement, which combined with an urbanized culture created the contemporary NBA. The casual fans must love it. Seeing superstars that are larger than life while catching a parachute from the rafters must be thrilling for them. I just hope that this monster wasn’t the end result you were seeking. There is no doubt in my mind that as a successful businessman, you wanted those butts in the seats. But when trying to copy your model, the league sacrificed the genuine qualities of basketball in the process.
Last week, you left behind more than just the Lakers. You left a league and a culture that needs a reality shock. You left pure basketball fans that wish they were alive when you took the helm, before the cheesy songs and inspirational clips tried to incite the masses. The worst part of it all? You were probably the only one who could change this ominous trend.
Thank you for creating “Showtime” on the court itself. The quality of players arriving from global backgrounds is both a thrilling and exciting element to what happens on the court. I just wish that organizations didn’t try and replicate what you made so successful off of it. Say hi to Red for me.
P.S. Go Celtics.