Ted Green: There's still a doctor in the house
He owned the L.A. Strings at the time, which was a tennis team in a fledgling minor league called World Team Tennis. The Strings were a back-page item, definitely not of philharmonic quality.
After we both did our due diligence on his new tennis endeavor, Dr. Jerry Buss paused to make sure he had my full attention.
"I'm going to own the Lakers one day," he told me, and I thought: Yeah, and I'm going to be the first man on Mars.
Just a few years later, he bought the Lakers. And within months, Magic Johnson had come to town. Now, after nine NBA titles and 15 appearances in the NBA Finals in a 30-year ownership run that should/must land him in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Jerry Buss is still full of surprises. And not a man you should ever underestimate.
The man with a PhD in chemistry from USC and a penchant for dating women who are so age inappropriate that other men get jealous played a high-stakes game of contract chicken with Lamar Odom and Lamar's peeps ... and darn it if the good doctor didn't win again.
Yeah, Lamar blinked first. Kenny Rogers would be proud. Odom knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.
So now it's hello, L.O.! Buss gets Lamar back in purple and gold, ensuring that the Lakers remain the longest, deepest, most versatile and talented team in the NBA. A nightly matchup nightmare.
The owner and poker nut also gives the genial, mellow one with the Sgt. Pepper jackets an opportunity to remain relevant, to be part of something that's already really good and potentially great, instead of becoming a so-what second option on a mediocre Miami team in muggy South Florida.
What's more, Buss gives Odom the three-year deal the owner had insisted on all along. True, the contract is for four years and $33 million, but that fourth year is exclusively at the Lakers' option, so it's really a three-year agreement with the Lakers able to say yay or nay on year four.
Now there are going to be some people, media and otherwise, who say so what, not so fast. They'll remind you that Odom is consistent only in his inconsistency, that some nights he'll drive to the basket like a perennial All-Star, while other nights -- too many, in fact -- he'll just drive you to drink.
We can argue Lamar's merits as a player all day, but on the court, consistent or not, he is a difference maker. And a great insurance policy in case Andrew Bynum never cashes in on his long potential.
But there's a much bigger picture here, one that should never be forgotten or overlooked, one that goes to the very heart of Jerry Buss' ownership of the Lakers. It is simply this:
Thirty years after he bought the team that has become a civic treasure and arguably the most glamorous franchise in all of sports, the doctor is still in the house. He will still do whatever it takes, pretty much whatever it costs, to give the Lakers and their fans their best chance to win.
By re-signing Odom, he's done it again.
What percentage of sports owners do you think can make that same claim, that they'll do anything to win, and actually be telling the truth?
-- Ted Green
Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times. He is currently senior sports producer for KTLA Prime News.
Photo: Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times