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Luhm: Buss owned the Lakers but saved the Jazz
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away this week, nearly 28 years after making sure the Utah Jazz did not.

The Buss Legacy, of course, centers around the Lakers and the success of Showtime after he purchased the franchise in 1979.

In Utah, however, Buss didn't lead a franchise to glorious heights.

He saved one.

According to the late Larry Miller, Buss played an undeniable role in keeping the Jazz from moving to Miami in 1985.

When Miller wanted to buy 50 percent of the team, Buss stood up for him during a Board of Governors meeting in New York City.

Without the support, the board might have rejected Miller's ownership bid, which would have left the door open for a buyer from Miami to purchase the franchise.

Imagine no 1993 All-Star Game at the Delta Center.

Imagine no game-winning shot by John Stockton in the 1997 Western Conference finals at Houston.

Imagine no back-to-back NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Without Buss, it could have happened that way.

In the autobiography he authored with local journalist Doug Robinson shortly before his death in 2009, Miller detailed his scrambling effort to purchase half of the Jazz.

Nine groups, apparently, stood in line to buy the franchise from owner Sam Battistone before Miller joined the battle to keep it in Utah.

Battistone was seeking limited partners, but Miller didn't think that approach wouldn't work.

He believed Battistone needed one partner, not several, and stepped forward with an $8 million offer to become co-owner.

Even though Miami bid $20 million for the franchise, Battistone accepted Miller's offer because he also wanted the team to remain in Utah.

At that point, Miller went to the Board of Governors, seeking approval for his ownership bid. Atlanta's Ted Turner attended the meeting. So did Jerry West, Red Auerbach and David Stern, the NBA's new commissioner.

When Miller began his presentation, San Antonio's Angelo Drossos quickly emerged as a skeptic.

Miller wrote: "... I laid out my financial statements showing earnings and equity and the debt structures of my business. Angelo, for some reason, took the lead in the meeting."

Drossos started questioning Miller, often interrupting before he could finish his response.

"He made up his mind we didn't want me there and wouldn't listen to my answers," Miller wrote.

Enter Buss.

"After the fifth interruption, Buss, who I had never met, interrupted Angelo," Miller recalled. "He said, 'Angelo, why don't you shut up and let him answer a question?' "

Then, Buss "started asking questions that led to a discussion of my numbers. … Within half an hour, Jerry said, 'I'm satisfied. Let's go with him.' "

After Buss' endorsement, Miller quickly became co-owner of the Jazz.

"Jerry saved me that day," Miller wrote.

Actually, Buss did much more. He saved Utah from losing a team that has become part of the state's fabric.

No Stockton-to-Malone? No Jerry Sloan or Phil Johnson. No Hot Rod Hundley?

Unfathomable.

luhm@sltrib.com

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