Jerry Buss, Lakers flamboyant owner dies at 80
Jerry Buss, in Los Angeles, was simply synonymous with championships.
He loved to party and gamble and travel and savor the many flavors of the world, but he also loved to win, and he did what he could to keep the Los Angeles Lakers adding to their NBA titles.
Buss, 80, died early Monday after battling cancer for a long time, and his death will be felt deeply in the Lakers family and throughout the NBA. He was generous with players, generally treating them like royalty during and after their careers.
"Dr. Buss loved the Lakers," said Magic Johnson, one of Buss' favorite players and a rookie when Buss bought the team. "He loved to play poker. He loved his women, I've got to say that. He loved winning for the fans of L.A. He would do anything to win championships for the people of L.A."
Johnson, like many players, past and present, had been visiting him at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in the past weeks.
"The brand of basketball he implemented in Showtime carried the league," Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant said over the weekend at All-Star Game festivities in Houston. "When you think about the rivalry that placed between the Lakers and (Boston) Celtics and what that did for the global outreach of the game. It reached me in Italy, and I was only 6 years old."
Even when NBA rules put penalties on large payrolls, Buss kept adding to the Lakers', willing to pay the luxury taxes required for going over the salary cap if it meant a better chance to win another championship.
In all, the Lakers won 10 titles under Buss' ownership, featuring some of the biggest stars in NBA history – Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant.
"He gave us everything we needed to win a championship," Johnson said. "We stayed at the best hotels, we had the best trainers, we had the best equipment. ... Sure enough, we were able to win the championship my first year, his first year."
A statement Monday on behalf of the Buss family said: "We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community." He had been hospitalized for much of the past 18 months in a battle that "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."
At a certain point, Buss' Lakers became the dominant sports franchise in town, eclipsing the popularity of the venerable Los Angeles Dodgers. In its latest NBA valuations, Forbes last month listed the Lakers at $1 billion, second only to the New York Knicks at $1.1 billion.
"The first call I got when we bought the Dodgers was from Dr. Buss. I thought he bought the Dodgers, he was so happy," Johnson, an ESPN NBA analyst, said on ESPN, adding he hadn't stopped crying since hearing the news early Monday. "It was just a father being proud of a son. He would always ask me, 'What's your next move?' "
Reaction poured in:
*NBA Commissioner David Stern: "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."
*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."
*Lakers legend 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"
*Playboy founder Hugh Hefner: "Learned of Lakers owner Jerry Buss death to cancer. We've lost a longtime friend."
*Boston Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck: "I had the pleasure of working with Jerry closely for the last 10 years on league matters. He was a wonderful business colleague, brilliant competitor and became a good friend. Although our teams competed in two Finals during that time, the friendship never wavered. He will be greatly missed and the entire Celtics organization offers condolences to the Buss family and Lakers organization."
*Boxer Oscar De La Hoya: "Dr. Jerry Buss, I will forever be grateful and appreciate all the support you gave me throughout my career. R.I.P."
*Bob Arum who co-promoted multiple championship fights with Buss in Los Angeles and Las Vegas -- "He was very gracious even when his guy lost. ... Jerry loved to come to Vegas; he was a big card player. He was always very cordial. He invited me to the Forum for a Laker game. He always was extremely nice. He was a real fun guy."
*Lakers radio play-by-play announcer John Ireland: "You would never know spending any time with Dr. Buss he was a billionaire. ... He was nice to people that were at the bottom and at the top because he was at both places. I don't think he ever forgot that."
*Former Showtime-winning Lakers coach Pat Riley, now president of the Miami Heat -- "Jerry Buss was more than just an owner. He was one of the great innovators that any sport has ever encountered. He was a true visionary and it was obvious with the Lakers in the 80's that 'Showtime' was more than just Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was really the vision of a man who saw something that connected with a community. I was privileged to be part of that for 10 years and even more grateful for the friendship that has lasted all these many years."
Buss didn't speak much in public, but his shrewdness was evident in the choices he made for the Lakers – Jerry West as general manager, Phil Jackson as coach.
"This is an extremely sad day for me," said West, now an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors. "As I have said many times, I have been blessed to work for Jerry Buss. ... His incredible commitment and desire to build a championship-caliber team that could sustain success over a long period of time has been unmatched. With all of his achievements, Jerry was without a doubt one of the most humble men I've ever been around. ...
"Our relationship has always been very unique; Jerry was always supportive of the many tough decisions that were made during our time together. I will particularly remember fondly our walks together during training camps, which were some of the highlights of my time working with him and the Lakers. ... We lost a great man today and a legend in our business."
When one of those tough decisions would arise – keep Bryant or O'Neal – Buss traded the aging O'Neal, kept Bryant and then watched Bryant lead the Lakers to two more championships.
"He means everything to me," Bryant said. "He took a chance on a 17-year-old kid coming out of Philadelphia when nobody really saw that potential. He believed in me the entire way.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find another owner who has had that kind of success. He's been able to construct championship teams, regroup, re-construct them again, regroup, reconstruct them again and build them in a very, very quick order. That's tough to find."