Dr. Jerry Buss Reflects on His Days with the Purple and Gold
The following interview ran in the Kings Yearbook during the 2003-04 season
Q: What are some of your greatest memories of when you owned the Kings?
A: When we had the Triple Crown Line, that was exceptionally exciting. That year we ended the season with the second best record overall and watching Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer and Marcel Dionne was one of the biggest thrills I had that whole year. The Miracle on Manchester was probably one of the things that people remember the most about the team that season. Of course some of the memorable moments were also sad. One of the things I remember was when Charlie Simmer broke his leg. It was really tough. However, watching Marcel end up as one of the top scorers in the league was always fun. Even though I was no longer the owner of the team when Wayne Gretzky came to Los Angeles, I was very ecstatic.
Q: In 1979 you made the decision to buy the Lakers and the Kings. What prompted that decision?
A: I had been after the teams for two years. At the time I owned the LA Strings that played in the Forum and I loved the idea of promoting professional sports, so I pursued the Lakers and the Kings until it finally happened in 1979.
Q: Were you always a huge sports fan growing up?
A: Yes, I was a very big sports fan. One of the reasons I came to USC to get my doctorate in chemistry was because they had a great athletic department.
Q: When you owned the Kings, were fans as loyal as they are now?
A: Yes. There are not many hockey fans as there should be in Los Angeles, but the fans that are here are the most loyal and dedicated fans in the whole world.
Q: Could you have envisioned back in 1979 that pro sports payrolls would be what they are now?
A: I think the payroll has gone up at least six hundred percent since the time I was in hockey or even a little more. Even in 1979, the salary could not have been covered by the income so I can’t even imagine how they can handle it now.
Q: Dave Taylor was a King prior to when you owned the team and was a King after you sold the club. He still is with the team as an executive. Do you think that such team loyalty is rare nowadays?
A: We were very blessed to have a lot of people who turned out to be very loyal. Those who joined the team in the mid-80s are still around in 2000 and beyond, and they are still loyal to the cause.
Q: How have you succeeded in maintaining a successful family-owned business all these years?
A: Well, fortunately I’m blessed with very bright children. Jeanie has done a remarkable job handling the finance with the Lakers. John has done a phenomenal job in the upbringing of the Sparks. Jim is probably the closest to the Lakers organization in helping me with the drafting and trading decisions. In the beginning it was largely my effort to maintain the business, but by the mid-to-late-80s, I started to get a lot of help from my bright children.
Q: Did you think that Wayne Gretzky would ever get traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles?
A: Well, I was the one who originally suggested that trade. The idea was that Gretzky, as an economic entity, had served his purpose in Edmonton. He couldn’t have contributed any more than he had already done. It would have just been more and more of the same thing. However, if he came to Los Angeles, just think what he could have done. He could put them on the hockey map, fill the arena and get them close to the Stanley Cup.
Q: Were you impressed with the 1993 season and the response of the fans?
A: I always knew that if we had a really good team, then we would develop a lot of new hockey fans. However, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t stay with the team because I was used to the loyal fans who would be there win, lose, or draw. They came out for the good days so I thought they would stay through the bad.
Q: What made you decide to sell the Kings?
A: I wanted to go into football and at that time it was impossible to own to franchises at the same time. I sold the hockey team hoping to buy a NFL team but unfortunately that fell through as well as any future attempts.
Q: What do you think the NHL needs to do to propel itself to get to that next level with the NFL or NBA?
A: I think the main difference is that the other sports make television, which hockey doesn’t seem to do. It’s sad, but I think hockey has gone as far as it can go because of the television situation. I don’t think the television is ever going to change unless there is a new magnificent technology to make it easier for people to watch.
Q: Do you think having Wayne Gretzky as a King sparked the Hollywood scene at the games?
A: I don’t think we had too many celebrities at our games before he came to the Kings, but we did have a few. Connie Stevens was always a huge fan as well as Buddy Epson. I think that the large percentage of celebrities started to come when Gretzky was acquired.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Kings current ownership group and how they operate?
A: I like the way the Kings are operated. There is a lot of stability to the franchise. There is no bad rumors going around and they don’t mislead anyone. They tell them exactly what they want to accomplish and keep trying until they do. I really think they have a stable operation and are going in the right direction. I also think the fans should be happy that they are in control.
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