Tim Harris once played goalie for the Los Angeles Lazers, an indoor soccer team owned by Jerry Buss. Harris, now an executive with the Lakers, said that as he looks back it was obvious what Buss was doing.
"He was setting up these labs for his kids to learn," Harris said. "That's how Jeanie learned and that's how I learned. Jeanie and I chuckle at it now. It wasn't that long ago we were sitting in roller hockey league meetings and now we're sitting in NBA league meetings."
Buss earned his fame and accolades by owning the Lakers and Kings. He sold the Kings in 1987, after eight years of ownership.
He later owned the WNBA's Sparks, but in his early years in sports Buss owned the L.A. Strings, a World Team Tennis franchise that featured Chris Evert as a player and Ilie Nastase as the coach and drew tennis fans to the Forum from 1974 to 1978; the Los Angeles Lazers, an indoor soccer team that lasted from 1982 to '89; and the Los Angeles Blades, a roller hockey team run by Jeanie Buss as part of the Roller Hockey International league that ran from 1993 to '97.
Richard Neil Graham, author of the book "Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks and Bucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International," said the league would have had a difficult time getting off the ground without Buss.
"He consented to holding RHI's first exhibition game at the Forum and then a bought a team for Jeanie to run that played from 1993 to 1997. He paid $50,000 for the rights, and the Blades were one of the most successful and respected franchises in the league," Graham said.
Dennis Murphy, a co-founder of the American Basketball Assn. and of World Team Tennis, said Buss hosted the first WTT's first structural meetings and was elected as first president.
Evert recalled that, "What was weird was that whatever Dr. Buss continued to do, he never mixed with us at all. He was very gracious and polite, but we never saw him. The other owners were always right there, front and center. We did, however draw [8,000] to 10,000 to the Forum every night.
"He was very shy, but very much ahead of his time," Evert said. "He really was a pioneer in that business. He took some risks, but he was just a quiet, humble guy."
Billie Jean King, who helped create the league, said Buss used his math background to choose players.
"Before he picked a player for his team, he always looked at the numbers," King said. "I was told to stay in touch with Jeanie, but Jerry sat up in the super box every game. He stayed out of the running of the team, but I just think he loved the sport of it.
Harris, the onetime goalie, said Buss wanted a soccer team "because he was in love with soccer."
"There were business reasons. He wanted ancillary entertainment to support the main business, the Lakers. But he also knew the Lakers appealed to one group and he wanted to try and bring a different client. He would come into the locker room after games, and as it turned out, it set me down a path that changed my life forever. I played three seasons, but it became clear the league at that time was doomed."
Fernando Clavijo, who now works for FC Dallas of MLS, played for the Lazers. He said that Jim Buss was in charge but that Jerry was the man behind the team.
"It was quality all around," Clavijo said. "He invited us to his mansion in Hollywood, he came to many games, he traveled with us," Clavijo said. "It was big-time quality. Dr. Buss was shy and never wanted to take attention. He allowed people to just do their jobs."
Harris said Buss bought time on a Pasadena radio station and had Bill Macdonald call the games.
"There was a family atmosphere," Harris said. "Paula Abdul danced for the Lakers, but she danced for the Lazers too."
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