BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers' Buss knows when to hold 'em

Buss said he has looked at Kupchak's lack of big trades before the Gasol deal the same way he looks at his beloved poker.

"When somebody asks why I didn't do well in poker, I say, 'Why don't you just give me your pair of aces for my two jacks, then I'll do fine,' " he says. "You just don't go out and get a good player that easily. I knew what Mitch was doing, I knew what his difficulties were, I think he's done a fabulous job."

While Buss treats his team like a family, he treats his family like a team.

Every couple of years, especially when the Lakers struggle, there have been calls for Buss to sell.

Forget it. It's not happening. He's giving the Lakers to his children, who have proven to him that they care enough to keep the winning alive.

A few years ago, Buss said, he was faced with "a reliably huge offer" for the team. He summoned each of his six children to a one-on-one meeting and asked them a question.

"I said, 'Are we keeping the Lakers because I love them, or because we all love them?' " he recalls. "They all said something that made me happy."

Not that Buss is planning on handing over control any time soon.

He's one of the few owners in sports who probably has actually gotten healthier as he has gotten older.

Since his DUI arrest last spring he has stopped driving, only drinks wine and has cut down on his clubbing.

"In his book, Phil [Jackson] wrote that I still go to discos and he has no idea why," Buss says. "Well, Phil, it's because I really like it."

He has few regrets like this in his life, he is rarely bothered by public criticism, he wraps himself in his Lakers cocoon and forges ahead.

"I practice self-inspection as much as anyone, and I think I'm doing fine," he says. "I think I could explain almost every move I've made as the most logical one at the time."

Even the trade of Shaquille O'Neal, which I still believe may have cost the Lakers at least one more championship?

Buss smiles. He notes that without the trade of O'Neal, the Lakers would never have had the players to acquire Gasol, who can offer them more hope for more years.

"Shaq was the toughest thing I've ever done, it was very, very tough," he says. "But I was little surprised Shaq reacted as negatively as he did. If there's ever been a true businessman in sports, it has to be him. He's promoted himself as well as anybody in the world."

True to Buss' nature, though, don't be surprised if O'Neal's jersey is lifted to the Staples Center rafters moments after his retirement.

Buss has survived so many new eras perhaps because he never forgets the old ones. The organization is filled with longtime employees and former Lakers who have returned.

Look around the court during home games, you'll see former Lakers sitting on the bench, under the basket, at the broadcast table, everywhere.

"One of the first things I tried to do when I bought the team was to make it an identification for this city, like Motown in Detroit," he says. "I try to keep that identification alive. I'm a real Angeleno. I want us to be part of the community."

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