Lakers President Jeannie Buss. Photo by Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze 03-11-15
Recently, the greatest female owner in sports, Ms. Jeannie Buss, made a “list” of her 5 most favorite Lakers(Ok, I am a 45-year student and fan of the Lakers; pardon my bias). It sent shockwaves, both for who was included (Phil Jackson but especially LeBron James). Predictably, LBJ was the target of the social media ire blowback. Any reference to LeBron in this post will be dealt with as an afterthought(he isn’t the subject of this post or decade, and actually Ms. Buss has excellent reasons to include him; he will only be mentioned for his inclusion, not whether he should have been included; Thus, any argument to affirm or deny whether he should be in the replies will be deleted; this post will only mention why he was included from Ms. Buss’s standpoint.) But, two surprising omissions have come forward with their disdain for not being included, namely Jerry Alan West and his prize recruit Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal. On the surface, the “best of 96” has a wonderful point. But, before we challenge their positions, let’s see who the list actually was for the record. The names and the justification from Ms. Busses’ standpoint will be mentioned.

The List

1. Magic Johnson– Showtime personified; he and Ms. Buss are the same age and became Lakers at age 19. Magic became Dr. Jerry Busses’ surrogate son, and Ms. Buss is, of course, the most competent businessperson among the Buss children. As the older man became terminally ill, the mandate(by all accounts) was to return the team to its 80s success. Indeed, in 2010, Dr. Buss told both to pursue LeBron James eventually; in 2007, he offered the great Kobe Bryant up for LeBron straight up, and the Cleveland Cavaliers declined. Magic has been a Laker in one form or another since 79, and most people would not seriously challenge his position here.

2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar– The all-time leading scorer with the most distinguished career in the history of the sport. Though he has sometimes resented his omissions, he too has more or less remained a Laker or supporter since 75; He is the only Laker for the majority of his career to be considered the GOAT faithfully.

3. Kobe Bryant- This is a no-brainer. The All-time Laker scorer has become the greatest millennial Laker, and his untimely death has increased his already considerable popularity. However, despite occasional outbursts, he remained a Laker for 20 years, and he has a sphere of influence( in the form of his coach and agent) even in his earthly absence.

4. Phil Jackson- Honestly, I dispute he is the greatest Laker coach despite those five titles. In addition, his style was detested by virtually the entire Buss family(save, of course, Ms. Buss herself); Nevertheless, his connection to both Kobe and Michael Jordan(and his silent hand in the current incarnation of the Lakers) makes his inclusion far from surprising.

5. LeBron James – This is by far the most controversial one. But for Ms. Buss, it’s perfectly justifiable. After all, the old man loved LeBron, and the 2010 “Decision” was, in fact, an ode to Showtime basketball( which Ms. Buss has been mandated to recreate). Let us review why:
a.) Pat Riley- According to Wojnarowski(who isn’t in LeBron’s pocket), Riley sold LBJ on the idea that he would be Magic Johnson for the Miami Heat.
b.) Claire Rothman– The former secretary of the Great Western Forum, she worked for years with both Jerry West and Pat Riley. in 2010, she smiled knowingly at Riley’s obsession with LeBron since it was a mirror of West’s summer of 96 pursuits of Shaq. It was Ms. Rothman, by the way, who memorably stated that West was the player Riley wanted to be, while Riley had been the coach West couldn’t be(which seems about right). In 2010, Riley’s pursuit of LeBron was to match West the GM(which he has come close; Riley and West have been in an NBA Final every decade since the 70s.)
c.) Magic Johnson– In 2010, Magic worked for ABC and was still a part-owner of the Lakers. More than any retired superstar, he thoroughly embraced LeBron( and Kareem has also been a passionate defender). On July 2nd, 2018, he was huddled outside LBJ’s home in the memory of his former coach(Riley) and GM(West) and surrogate dad(Dr. Buss).
But then, support came in an unexpected direction. Consider:
d.) Isiah Thomas and the 2020 Finals– the legendary point guard(and Laker admirer and rival), made an unbelievable statement for one primary reason. After game one of the Finals, he said, ” The Lakers right now are playing against themselves, the old Lakers against the new Lakers.” Zeke didn’t explain, but it was unbelievable because he said this in front of; That noted philosopher(and Laker exiled center) Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq, normally loquacious, didn’t reply. But the greatest little man ever was basically explaining why Shaq did not (in fact, could not) belong on the above list, even though he did what LeBron was trying to do in reverse. The rest of this post is now an ode to a man who should have been included and whose legacy is even now felt on the Lakers, even though he passed away in 2013. Then we can get to Zeke’s poignant but unstated point. Just WHO is this great man?

Bill Sharman: The Lakers Greatest Celtic
In 1971, William Thomas(Bill Sharman) was at a crossroads in his life. A basketball lifer, he was then 45, and his first wife Dorothy was going through a painful terminal bout with breast cancer. But, Basketball-wise, he joined the Lakers with an illustrious career. Consider:
a.) USC- Sharman had played with the founder of the triangle offense, namely Morice Frances (Tex) Winter. In fact, Phil Jackson, another silent Sharman student, would claim that Sharman’s Lakers ran a version of the triangle in the early 70s.
b.) First great backcourt- With Bob Cousy, Sharman would form the first great backcourt. They would win four titles, and Sharman for almost two generations remained the greatest shooter in NBA history.
c.) Champion- Sharman won 2 titles in two different leagues by 1971(including one working for a magnate named George Steinbrenner), but his Laker challenge was the greatest of them all. Consider:
1.) In 1971, Jerry Alan West was a brilliant but miserable superstar. He lost his older brother David in the Korean War, and he would spend nearly 55 years undiagnosed as a severe depression sufferer, Sharman, who was about David’s age, would serve as the big brother West lost. In addition, Sharman would be Laker president through 1988, and Ms. Rothman noticed an immediate deterioration in West and Riley’s relationship after he departed from the day-to-day affairs.
2.) On June 26th, 1970, a disappointing NBA player named Patrick James Riley got married. On this day, he would get one last word of encouragement from his ailing father that would serve as the backdrop for the 1985 NBA Championship season. In Sharman, Riley would find the stable father figure he long yearned for.
3.) Wilt Chamberlain needed someone to guide but include him, and Sharman would deftly do just that while enforcing a level of preparation that allowed the 72 Lakers have the longest streak(33) that is still the standard today.
What was so amazing is that Sharman did all of this with his wife ailing and he himself losing his voice( he eventually lost all of it; It was never as bad as he thought, but it was bad enough that by the 90s, he was rarely giving interviews.)
As GM, Sharman would :
1. Trade for Kareem
2. Draft Magic( West wanted Sidney Moncrief)
3. Make the trade that landed James Worthy( West made the pick).
4. Insist that Riley be a sole coach(West would follow, but Sharman thought Riley would make a great coach).
So, Sharman effectively made Celtic pride acceptable to Laker Nation. He touched virtually all aspects of Laker basketball to the present day, and he is the riddle to Isiah’s proclamation to Shaq in the 2020 Finals.
So, in the refutation of both Shaq and Jerry West, the real noninclusion is Mr. Sharman.
In addition, Mr. Sharman worked as a Laker until his death at 87 in 2013, a few months after Dr. Busses’ death and Kobe’s essentially superstar-ending injury.
He deserves inclusion more than Shaq or West, both of whom left the franchise on bad terms.
Ms. Buss, fully aware of this, decided to mention the influences instead of the ultimate influencer.
Thus, the omissions now make perfect sense.
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