NBA Owner Jerry Buss Had Special Affection for Sweet Science


By Ivan G. Goldman

When Jerry Buss died early Monday morning from cancer and kidney failure, obituaries detailing his rags-to-riches life dwelled mostly on how he changed the dynamics of the NBA when he became principal owner of the L.A. Lakers. But they didn’t, as a rule, even mention that he had a very real impact on boxing too.

As a promoter he developed fighters such as Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Chiquita Gonzalez, and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. In those days they were unknowns.

Buss, a storied businessman who made complex deals even experienced financial writers had a hard time understanding, could have left an even bigger imprint on boxing, but ironically he was too concerned with giving his fighters a better deal than they were used to.

Buss lost millions of dollars on boxing. It was his hobby, the thing he went to just for fun. He’d brought it into the Forum so he could see fights without having to leave town. He knew all about the sweet science and could hold his own in a boxing discussion with anybody.

After he bought the Forum and the Lakers in 1979, he quickly established fight shows. Buss felt there were plenty of knowledgeable fans around L.A. who knew fighters in lower weight divisions tended to provide better fights. Dr. Buss, as his employees liked to call him (he had a Ph.D. in chemistry) put on about 25 shows a year.

But boxing promotions involved acquiring championship belts and using them to acquire promotional rights to even more fighters. When a titlist put his belt on the line, the challenger had to sign over at least some if not all of his promotional rights to the champion’s promoter if he dislodged the former champ. That was the business model. Don King and Bob Arum, who ruled the roost in those days, did this all the time. But Dr. Buss thought it was unfair to make fighters sign their future away like that.

Chiquita Gonzalez, a great little 108-pounder who held the IBF and WBC titles, was one of Buss’s most popular attractions. In 1995 when a Thai boxer no one ever heard of, Saman Sorjaturong, came into the Forum and knocked him out, Sorjaturong went back to Thailand with the titles and Forum fans never saw him or the belts again. When I asked Buss why he didn’t attach an option to the title fight, he answered simply, “I never liked doing business like that.”

Buss understood the game, but was determined to play it his own way. To be a really big-time boxing promoter he’d have to challenge King and Arum, and the Lakers already took up much of his time. Besides, he always made sure to reserve play time for himself.

Buss was a dedicated playboy and often had a gorgeous woman on his arm. His players used to run into him at the clubs. They marveled at the moves of this guy who was several decades older than they were. Buss, who invented the Laker Girls (other NBA owners soon followed, hiring their own beautiful dancers), also hired a band for them. He felt they were too good to have to dance to canned music. He not only hired gorgeous round card girls for boxing shows, he put on beauty contests for them. His employees joked that he hired the card girls only because he wanted to meet them. They were only half-joking.

In 1999, when Buss made a complicated deal to sell the Forum and put the Lakers into the new Staples Center, he also gave up Forum Boxing. He didn’t want to leave his children a business that lost money. Forum Boxing collapsed a few years later.

Reading Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable {Permanent Press, 2012) is a fine experience the author wishes for each and every one of you. So buy it. Information HERE

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