The chemist who purchased the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 was a big thinker and dreamer and years ahead of the culture. He believed in entertainment and that sports, for the fan, was about the pleasure principle. He catered to the rich, never forgot about the poor, turned a Dodgers town into a Lakers town and considered Magic Johnson the son he never had. He and Magic hit the clubs at night and the Playboy mansion when they wanted reckless fun and to be around beautiful women. They spent hours upon hours in conversation about everything.
They hated the Celtics and loved Los Angeles. Magic taught Dr. Jerry Buss about basketball. Dr. Buss taught Magic about business. Their relationship was personal and tender and important and both inspired the other. Dr. Buss was a larger than life figure who loved to win and adored stars. Magic was as big a star as you could get.
When Magic’s career abruptly ended, Dr. Buss mourned. Magic was more than his star player. He was son, friend, confidante, hang out buddy. But Dr. Buss was still running the Lakers. He had to find replacements. Los Angeles needs stars, it is their lifeblood.
25 years after he retired from the Lakers, Magic Johnson took over the running of the Lakers, what was once Dr. Buss’ job. Magic promised stars to a desperate city burdened with the average for the past few years.
LeBron James is the greatest star there is. Even though he had been rumored all year to have the Lakers in his sights, it was hard to connect the dots. Sure, LeBron had a home in Los Angeles. He had a lot of business interests. His son wanted to go to high school here. His wife was on board with the move. However the basketball side of the argument was a little bit sketchy because the Lakers had a bunch of kids on the roster and a young coach and were fun to watch and could do some things in moments but they weren’t exactly ready for a LeBron James type of star. They weren’t serious enough. They didn’t have a sense of urgency. They were young enough to be casual about their careers. It was difficult to assess if any of them would be All-Stars much less face of a franchise. There was a lot of gray, a lot of fill in the blanks for the future.
Young players don’t thrill LeBron nor do they inspire confidence. The learning curve is too steep. There is a disconnect. The place where LeBron is in his career is absent treading water machinations. It is about the right now, not potential and certainly not the future. So it was always hard to see LeBron on the Lakers.
Although the Decision of 2010 will forever be the LeBron fingerprint, what is remembered is the wrong thing. The crushing blow the city of Cleveland took that night is repeated up and down but there is another less talked about consequence. LeBron changed how NBA business is done. He gave agency to NBA players to control their future by creating a business model and executing a plan, in essence, taking responsibility out of the control of a front office. LeBron was bold, bolder than any NBA player had ever been in his career and it paid off with three titles. He was bold again by returning to the scene of the crime and completing his promise to Cleveland.
According to Stephen A. Smith, at 9:01 pacific time Magic Johnson was on LeBron James doorstep and the two spoke for three hours. The length of the contract implies they both came to a realistic understanding of what this is. Trusting Magic and the Lakers to build around LeBron. Trusting some of the young Lakers to develop albeit at a rapid pace. Trusting the Lakers history of excellence that Dr. Buss cultivated. As Magic sat with LeBron in his living room, he was only repeating a Laker story. Dr. Buss sat in Magic’s living room, and in Kobe’s living room and in Shaq’s living room and in Pau Gasol’s living room.
Dr. Buss has been dead for five years and for five years the Lakers have been out the playoffs and have had some horrific losses and dreadful moments and players who were all wrong. Magic Johnson entered as the savior, the person in the room who loved Jerry Buss as a father and who understood the Lakers DNA. They need stars. Dr. Buss taught him that. And he taught Magic Johnson to keep his promise.