Jerry Buss, Lakers owner was 80

Updated story with new information

jerry-buss-smiling.JPGJerry Buss grew up in Depression-era Wyoming and moved to Southern California in 1953, worked for awhile in aerospace plants then made money in real estate — a West LA apartment building originally. He bought the Los Angeles Strings of the World Team Tennis league in 1974, and in 1979 was ready when Jack Kent Cooke, in the midst of a nasty divorce, needed to sell the Forum and his prize, the Los Angeles Lakers. From the LA Times obit today by David Wharton:

The asking price was $33.5 million for the arena, $16 million for the Lakers, $8 million for the Kings and $10 million for Cooke's ranch in the Sierra Nevada. Buss suggested a real-estate swap to avoid capital gains taxes and wound up unloading the majority of his holdings. As part of the deal, he bought the Chrysler Building in New York City and traded it to Cooke.

Negotiations nearly fell through at the last minute when an investor dropped out, leaving Buss to scramble for more money, including a $1-million loan from [partner Frank] Mariani's friend Donald T. Sterling, who would later purchase the Clippers.

Once again, Buss was leveraged to the hilt, as he was at the start of his real estate career. Once again, he was taking a risk.

The NBA — the "sport of the '70s" — had fallen by the wayside. Several teams stood on the brink of bankruptcy, CBS was broadcasting finals games on tape delay instead of live, and there were reports of rampant drug use among players.

But to Buss, the Lakers looked like a gem in the coal bin. Seven years removed from their last title, they had a dominant center in Abdul-Jabbar and were poised to select the effervescent Johnson out of Michigan State in the 1979 NBA draft.

Buss added something more to the mix: a vision for the future.

Buss died this morning of kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Word of his hospitalization for cancer got out last week, and numerous Laker legends had made visits to the hospital. He was called "Doctor Buss" by the Lakers and by some media because of a doctorate in physical chemistry earned at USC in 1957.

Coverage and links: AP | ESPN | New York Times | NBC 4
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From the AP story:

Although Buss was proudest of his two hands full of NBA title rings, he also was a scholar, Renaissance man and bon vivant who epitomized California cool -- and a certain Los Angeles lifestyle -- for his entire public life.

The father of six rarely appeared in public without at least one attractive, much younger woman on his arm at USC football games, boxing matches, poker tournaments -- and, of course, Lakers games from his private box at Staples Center, which was built under his watch.

The Lakers won 10 NBA championships during his more than three decades as owner: in 1980, '82, '85, '87, '88, 2000, '01, '02, '09 and '10. His marquee players have included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. "But equally important to his legacy was a sense of showmanship that transformed pro basketball from sport to spectacle," Wharton writes.

Buss himself once said, “I really tried to create a Laker image, a distinct identity. I think we’ve been successful. I mean, the Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood.” When he bought the team in 1979, Buss quipped, "I really want to have fun with this thing." The movie stars sitting courtside, the young women on his arms, the Laker Girls entertaining on the floor were all part of the Buss package.

David Stern, the NBA commissioner, said in a statement, "The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come. More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time."

The full statement from the Lakers offices in El Segundo:

Dr. Jerry Buss, longtime owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, passed away today at 5:55 am after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

"We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community," a statement released on behalf of the Buss family said.

Dr. Buss had been hospitalized much of the past 18 months in a battle which "showed his amazing strength and will to live. It was our father's often stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy," the statement concluded.

He is survived by sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel, all of Southern California; eight grandchildren; former wife JoAnn of Las Vegas; half sister Susan Hall of Phoenix; half brother Micky Brown of Scottsdale; and stepbrother Jim Brown of Star Valley, Wyoming.

Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation or a charity of the donor's choice.

The official "news" story on the Lakers website refers to Buss in the lede as "the greatest owner in this history of professional sport."

Some reactions:

Magic Johnson: "My thoughts and prayers are with the family & friends of Dr. Jerry Buss. He was a great man and an incredible friend."

James Worthy: "Condolences to the Buss family. Dr Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly."

Shaqullle O'Neal: "I'm deeply saddened over the loss of the great Dr. Jerry Buss. He was a dear friend, keen mentor and brilliant businessman. He'll always be remembered for his dedication in bringing the best to the purple and gold and I'm proud to have been part of his honorable legacy. My heart and prayers go out to the Buss family and friends. Dr. Buss will be deeply missed by this big man."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “Dr. Jerry Buss was a cornerstone of the Los Angeles sports community and his name will always be synonymous with his beloved Lakers. It was through his stewardship that the Lakers brought “Showtime” basketball and numerous
championship rings to this great City. Today we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a man who helped shape the modern landscape of sports in LA, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”

Pau Gasol: "Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball. All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: "RIP Jerry Buss. Your encouragement and support along with your stories of staying true to yourself had an enormous impact on me."

Isiah Thomas: "R.I.P Dr. Buss you were a giant in the industry, and was always there to help and give advice. Your kindness and spirit will be missed!"

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