Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, and formerly of the Los Angeles Kings, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Buss had been hospitalized often over the last 18 months for cancer, but his assistant Bob Steiner said the official cause of death was listed as kidney failure. Buss was 80.
The legendary owner purchased the Lakers, along with the Kings, the Forum sports arena, and a large California ranch from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67.5 million. At the time, the transaction was the largest in sports history. Forbes Magazine valued the Lakers at $1 billion in 2013, a testament to Buss' leadership and vision for the franchise.
Gerald Hatten "Jerry" Buss was born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 27, 1933, but was raised in Kemmerer, Wyoming, where after his parents divorced, he was raised by his mother, mostly in poverty. He later earned a scholarship and attended the University of Wyoming, graduating with a bachelors degree in just two and a half years. Buss then moved to California and attended the University of Southern California, where he received an M.S. and Ph.D in physical chemistry by the age of 24. Although sports seemed to be his biggest passion, Buss first began building his empire in the real-estate business. His first investment was the purchase of a Los Angeles apartment building for $1,000 in the 1960's.
Under Buss' ownership, the Lakers tallied an impressive 16 NBA Finals appearances, winning 10 NBA titles in 34 years. He was best known for his creative vision, and ability to successfully bring entertainment to the basketball court. In 1981, Buss attracted the attention of the sports world by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year, $25 million contract. Johnson and his Showtime Lakers brought an unparalleled level of excitement to basketball, and Buss made certain it would last in Los Angeles. The Showtime dynasty was responsible for bringing five championships to the city of L.A.
Buss always made it clear that he was willing to spend big to attract the finest and most talented of players. In 1996, the Lakers would draft Kobe Bryant, and trade for Shaquille O'neal. Together, the tandem won three titles together from 2000 to 2002, while Bryant would go on to win two more championships with Pau Gasol in 2009 and 2010, long after O'neal had departed. Both O'neal and Bryant became the highest paid player in the game at one point during their careers, and Dr. Jerry Buss is to thank for that. Buss truly understood the value of star power in a city that worships it.
As owner of the Lakers, Buss dished his money out to acquire high-profile coaches Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson, even while running a team that frequently held the NBA's highest payroll. His willingness to spend money towards winning made him beloved to L.A. sports fans.
As for the entertainment he provided for fans at the arena, Buss was responsible for creating the Laker Girls, a dance team that performed live during basketball games. The Laker Girls have always been known for their somewhat revealing outfits, good looks, and of course, their compelling dance routines. The entertainment he provided surrounding the game, along with the talent on the court, put Hollywood stars and celebrity's in the seats, turning the Lakers into the glamor team of the sports world.
During his 34 years as the head of the Lakers franchise, Buss managed some of the best and most famous players in NBA history, including Johnson, Bryant, O’neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Pau Gasol and Dennis Rodman.
As a result of his declining health conditions, Buss was unable to attend Laker games during the 2012-13 season. He had slowly passed the control of the team over to his family, namely his son Jim and daughter Jeanie. Jim has taken over basketball decisions along with general manager Mitch Kupchak, while Jeanie oversees the business operations of the franchise.
In addition to his accomplishments in team sports ownership, Buss made a huge impact on televised sports, creating the Prime Ticket cable network in 1985. The network televised live Laker games with Hall of Fame announcer Chick Hearn calling the action.
Buss owned the Kings from 1979-1987, during which the Triple Crown line of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer skated together in L.A. Prime Ticket also broadcasted live Kings games, which became especially popular after the team acquired the greatest player ever, Wayne Gretzky, in 1988.
Dr. Jerry Buss was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
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