Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who brought 10 NBA championships to Los Angeles and “Showtime” to the basketball world, died Monday at the age of 80.
Buss died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to his assistant Bob Steiner. He had reportedly been hospitalized with cancer, but the immediate cause of death was unknown.
There have been few sports executives in history to make the kind of impact as Buss, putting together lineups that included superstars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and took the Lakers to the top of the basketball world.
Prior to Buss taking over the Lakers in 1979, the Boston Celtics were the NBA’s reigning royalty with 13 championships and six times defeating L.A. in The Finals. But under this ownership, the Lakers ushered in the ‘Showtime’ era behind Johnson, Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar to win titles in 1980, ’82, ’85, ’87, ’88. With O’Neal and Bryant (both as a pair and with Bryant as the headliner later on), L.A. took home titles in 2000, ’01, ’02, ’09 and 10.
In the process, Buss made the Lakers into the most exciting act and hottest name in sports by attracting A-list Hollywood celebrities to their home games at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. and the downtown L.A. Staples Center. It was the presence of Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson sitting courtside and interacting with players and coaches as the Lakers’ highest-profile fan that led to the star-filled scene on Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston where the 62nd NBA All-Star Game was a virtual Who’s Who of big names from the movie, music and sports industries.
Born Gerald Hatten Buss on Jan. 27, 1933 in Salt Lake City and raised in Wyoming, he worked himself up as a child of Depression Era breadlines to become a multi-millionaire. He would complete one of the biggest transactions in sports history when he purchased the Lakers, L.A. Kings hockey team, the Forum and a large chunk of California real estate from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67.5 million. The Lakers franchise has an estimated worth of $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, second only to the New York Knicks in the NBA.
The day-to-day operation of the team had recently been taken over by Buss’s children, Jim (basketball operations) and Jeanie (business operations).
Buss was a graduate of the University of Southern California, earning a doctorate in physical chemistry.
Even in a city such as Los Angeles, where the Hollywood stars shine, Buss — for more than three decades — had the show that most often sparkled. The NBA and the sports world are dimmer with his passing.
“He’s meant everything to me in my career in terms of taking a risk on a 17-year-old kid coming out of high school and then believing in me my entire career,” Bryant said at an All-Star weekend news conference in Houston. “And then for the game itself, the brand of basketball that he implemented in Showtime carried the league.”