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New England Patriots owner remembers the Lakers' Jerry Buss

Robert Kraft's friendship with the late Lakers owner dates to when both owned tennis teams. He signed Martina Navratilova and Jerry Buss signed Chris Evert.

February 20, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the field before the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the field before the AFC championship game… (Michael Ivins / EPA )

For one championship-winning team owner from Boston, the name Jerry Buss conjures memories of two sports superstars whose rivalry from opposite coasts defined an era.

Magic vs. Bird?

No, Chrissy vs. Martina.

The man from Boston is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, whose first foray into professional sports was as owner of the Boston Lobsters of World Team Tennis from 1975-78.

Kraft signed Martina Navratilova after she defected from Czechoslovakia, and after Buss, then owner of the Los Angeles Strings, had made a splash by signing Chris Evert.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Kraft said Buss, who died Monday, was "one of the smarter owners in World Team Tennis, and I think each of us learned a lot that prepared us for our next sports venture."

"Each of us brought something to the league at tennis at the time," Kraft added. "Each of our clubs were profitable, and I can't say that about all of our partners. Each of us learned a lot from team tennis, how important it is to have good partners, but also what it meant to run a franchise."

In addition, Kraft said, the experience taught both how important it was to own the venue the team played in — a lesson they carried forward when Buss bought the Lakers and the Forum, and Kraft bought the stadium in Foxborough, Mass., then the Patriots, then built them a new stadium.

Kraft, who plans to attend the memorial service for Buss on Thursday at the Nokia Theatre, said the two always maintained a friendship and a healthy respect for each other.

"He was always very nice to me," Kraft said. "I remember after he bought the Lakers, whenever I would come visit, he'd have me sit with him at the Forum and he'd put my name up on the scoreboard: 'Welcome, my friend from Boston….'"

Then, there was the WTT owners' meeting at Kraft's home in Boston, when Buss, then in his early 40s, brought a starlet-type date who looked roughly half his age. She wore a sheer blouse and had a wardrobe malfunction that sent Kraft's wife, Myra, scrambling for a safety pin.

Recalled Kraft: "My sons were trailing around this beautiful young girl…."

Kraft said that he and Buss touched base only occasionally in recent years, but that the Lakers owner gave him a call after each of the Patriots' three Super Bowl victories.

Kraft would send his congratulations to Buss too, if only grudgingly sometimes.

"I was always a Celtics fan first," he said. "I'd root for him if they weren't playing the Celtics."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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