Lakers' Buss knows when to hold 'em

Again running his team like a well-played poker hand, the owner has Lakers back in the chips after three lean years and one stormy summer.

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The best owner in the history of professional sports is strolling through his sprawling hilltop home when he comes upon an ornate wooden door riddled with three gaping holes.

It is the door to his private elevator. It is also, perhaps, the portal to a philosophy.

"Let me tell you a story about those holes," Jerry Buss says.

On a recent Saturday, while Buss was inside the elevator, it jolted to a stop between the first and second floors.

A man with a presence as sprawling as the Southland was suddenly stuck in a small, dark place.

"What could I do?" he says. "I sat down and I waited."

And waited. And waited.

He talked pleasantly to his houseguests as they scurried for help. He was polite to the firemen who were baffled by the elevator's mechanics.

But, finally, after 40 minutes of black isolation, the man needed to move.

"I told them, enough, enough, do whatever it takes, but get me out of here," Buss says.

Out came the saws. Down came the door. It is perhaps no coincidence that Buss hasn't yet fixed it.

These are the scars that define a man's soul.

For 29 years, he has owned the Lakers with a smile and a wink and a young hottie on his arm, the epitome of Southern California cool, a city's favorite funky uncle.

But for 29 years, when the air has gotten thick and the light has disappeared, he has broken down doors to let that city breathe.

"Make money? I've been there and done that," he says, his voice soft, yet strong. "I'm doing this for the license plate."

The license plate?

"The one on my car that says, '9XWCHMP,' " he says. "I want to change it to 10."

Buss, responsible for eight of those NBA titles, recently took a huge step toward that alteration by spending millions to acquire Pau Gasol, breaking out of the funk of the last three seasons, making a city howl again.

That's the reason for this lunch.

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