Buss Enjoying Lakers’ Finals Run
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jerry Buss was wearing a checkered sports jacket that was almost as bright as his smile when he arrived at Staples Center on Friday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers owner has been a joyous spectator during the Lakers’ return to pre-eminence this season in the NBA and in the hearts of their fans.
``It’s just been tremendous to see the enthusiasm the city has for the team,″ Buss said. ``We couldn’t be happier.″
With the team’s move to a new arena and its charge deep into the playoffs, the Lakers have recaptured some of the mystique that surrounded them while winning five championships in the Magic-and-Kareem era. Those were the best of times for Buss, the former chemical engineer who bought the Lakers in 1979.
Los Angeles’ return to prominence started with Buss, who in the last several years has opened his wallet for top-line talent on the court and on the bench. He isn’t taking credit for the team’s transformation, but he’s enjoying it as much as anyone.
Three years after signing Shaquille O’Neal to a huge free-agent contract and drafting Kobe Bryant, the 1998-99 Lakers were no closer to a championship than the Lakers teams that floundered through the 1990s. Los Angeles was trounced in the playoffs’ second round by eventual champion San Antonio.
But last summer, Buss put his money where his heart was, agreeing to spend $30 million to sign coach Phil Jackson to a five-year contract. In doing so, he reassigned coach and friend Kurt Rambis, who clashed with O’Neal and never earned the star’s respect.
The Lakers’ high-priced strategy paid off, as Jackson got the most out of both O’Neal and Bryant. The Lakers earned the league’s best record for the first time since 1989-90.
In the moments before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Buss visited the team locker room to offer encouragement. As usual these days, he was smiling.
``I think it has been great to see where we’ve gone in the last four years,″ Buss said.
GET LUCKY, STAY HEALTHY: In the NBA, good health is never taken for granted. In the playoffs, staying injury-free becomes critical.
Both Indiana and Los Angeles are playing with full rosters of healthy players, and both are grateful. But Jackson can’t name any one reason why his team has avoided the injury bug when it matters the most.
``Some of it has to be good fortune,″ he said.
Under Rambis last season, the Lakers were slowed by O’Neal’s problems with his abdominal muscles. Los Angeles suffered injury problems early this season when Kobe Bryant missed the first 15 games with a broken hand,
Since then, the Lakers have had nearly perfect health. A.C. Green, the NBA’s reigning ironman, and Rick Fox played in all 82 games this year, while key contributors O’Neal, Glen Rice, Ron Harper and Robert Horry missed just 12 combined games because of injuries.
``Some of it is due to our conditioning and our weight trainers,″ Jackson said. ``Some of it is our style of basketball, (but) you can’t belittle the fact that fortune plays a role. That’s why you get to the finals in the first place.″
The Pacers also have kept their key performers injury-free. While Travis Best was the only player not to miss a game, Dale Davis was the only player among Indiana’s top eight scorers to miss more than three games.
TAKING HIS SHOT: A 32-year-old network administrator from Wisconsin was this year’s contestant in the 1-800-CALL-ATT Million Dollar Shootout.
Jeff Christensen, of Marshfield, Wis., was coached by 12-time All-Star George Gervin in the four shots that could be worth $1,000,000. Christensen shot during halftime of Game 2.
His first shot is a layup worth $25,000. The second shot, from 12 feet, is worth $75,000; the third, from the free-throw line, is worth $150,000, and the fourth, from the top of the 3-point arc, is worth $750,000 for a total of a cool million.
LOOSE BALLS: Davis arrived at Staples Center on Friday night carrying his personal belongings in an NBA Finals souvenir backpack. ... Rose, winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, is the first recipient of the honor to play in the finals the same year. The award has been given out since 1986. ... Jackson, the seventh coach in NBA history to take more than one franchise to the finals, is trying to win his fourth consecutive championship series. Jackson took last season off after leading the Bulls to three straight titles. Only Red Auerbach, who took the Celtics to eight straight titles, has more.