Dr. Jerry Buss, on his Prime Ticket gamble 25 years ago, and if a Laker cable channel would fly today

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Elise Amendola/AP Photo
Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, foreground, speaks at his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Pat Riley present at Springfield, Mass., last Friday.

Following up on last week’s piece (linked here) about how Dr. Jerry Buss was ahead of the curve with launching the Prime Ticket cable channel in Southern California 25 years ago — it may have been his greatest contribution to the Basketball Hall of Famer who was inducted last Friday as a “contributor” to the NBA — we caught up with the Lakers owner at a press gathering at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens today to try to get more from him about the long-term effects of that business decision.

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On how that Prime Ticket venture started and how it holds true today as a visionary business model:

Well, at that time, a lot of people were beginning to say there should be a sports network, a sports station, and certainly it would start in the big cities first. My trick was ally myself with a particular person. We got bidders and people who wanted to do that but I choose Bill Daniels (pictured right) because he was very experienced in the whole cable business and shelf space was really the important thing at that time. …

(At this point, Lisa Estrada, the head of the Laker Girls, comes by to plant a kiss on Buss’ cheek, resulting in him giving praise to her squad … “Boy your squad is unbelieveable. I’m so proud of you I can’t even tell you …” As Estrada leaves, Buss whispers: “The Laker Girls look so much better than any other dancers …”)

I took a big gamble because what I did was put in my rights (for the team). That was pinned on whether the team was successful or unsuccessful. I did not put up the money, he (Daniels) put up the money and I put up my teams (for programming). Without those television rights it would have been very tough for me to get by at that time (1985). It could have ended up as a failure, but fortuntately, I choose the right man, he got us on the air and the rest is history.

On whether there could be a time when the Lakers owned their own channel, like the Yankees and Mets do in New York:

I suppose so. I’ll tell you, I’m the wrong person to ask about that now. (Daughter) Jeanie (who runs the business side of his teams) is the one. Like with any business you look at every opportunity. Whether you’re serious about it or not is another story. Certainly I’m sure she has looked into this very thoroughly.

Consider how cable TV has exploded in the last 25 years, on how cool it must have been to be in on the ground floor for launching Los Angeles sports into this new venture:

It was. It got me a star in Hollywood (on the Walk of Fame), so that makes me very, very happy.

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Andy Holtzman/Daily News

Included in Buss’ Q-and-A with the assembled media, he also expounded on these topics, questions posed by Joe McDonnell:

On if he could have imagined in 1979 the Laker dynasty that he was about to embark on over the last 31 years:

I couldn’t ever imagine that, but you know, right from the beginning, when I saw Magic Johnson play, I thought he was going to be very special. And when I say special, I’m not gonna answer that question whether he’s the best player in the world, but I will say this, I think he’s the best team player that ever existed. So in saying that, I always felt we were going to have a great team but no one could have imagined this type of thing. This is beyond belief. The whole game now is to see if we can keep it going. I don’t ever think we’ve made a move specifically for money. We’ve always tried to keep the public trust, so to speak, and if you’re willing to pay the big dollars for your tickets, we’re willing to turn those dollars over to the talent.

On how long he expects to stay active as an owner:

Well, I still talk to my son Jimmy at least twice a day. Some of those phone calls are as long as an hour, and those phone calls largely is basketball, what we should do, what we’re doing. So I think I’m pretty active. but I would say in terms of the decisions, I’d say 80 percent goes with Jim and I throw in my two cents worth here and there, but pretty much I’m on the receiving end of a lot of things.

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On whether he’s still the bottom line when it comes to decisions:

I’m still (pause) … they still have to kiss the (new Hall of Fame) ring.

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