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L.A. Lakers Owner Jerry Buss Dies

The legendary owner of the Los Angeles Lakers built his team into one of the most successful franchises in the country. Share your remembrances.

Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who helped transform the franchise into the most successful and glamorous team in North American professional sports, died today, the team and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center confirmed. He was 80.

Buss died at 5:55 a.m., according to Cedars-Sinai spokeswoman Sally Stewart.

Buss had spent time in the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with an undisclosed form of cancer, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 1979, Buss purchased the Lakers, Forum, Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a 13,000-acre Kern County ranch from Jack Kent Cooke for $67.5 million, then the largest transaction in sports history.

When Buss purchased the team, it had won one championship in the previous 25 seasons and had lost nine times in the NBA finals during that span, including four seven-game series.

Buss combined show business glamour and sex appeal with shrewd personnel moves -- both on and off the court -- to make the Lakers become what NBA Commissioner David Stern once said was ``the standard by which all L.A. sports franchises and most American franchises get measured.''

In Buss' first season as owner, the Lakers won the NBA championship, then added four more titles in the following eight seasons, as the Magic Johnson-led fast-breaking ``Showtime'' offense enthralled both the general public and celebrities like Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson, who became regulars in the courtside seats.

Under Buss, the Lakers became the first basketball team to have a dance squad: the Laker Girls, who also developed a devoted following and inspired creation of similar squads by every other team in the league.

The Lakers won three more NBA championships from 2000-2002 with teams led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bryant-led teams won titles in 2009 and 2010.

The Lakers' 10 championships under Buss' ownership are the most by a team in any of the four major North American professional leagues since he purchased the team. Buss' 10 championships as an owner are the most in NBA history.

Buss was selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. During the induction ceremony at the Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., the site of the Hall of Fame, Buss said he was ``probably happier than anyone'' to be inducted "because most of the people that come up here have an inkling of the idea someday they may make the Hall of Fame.

"Believe me, when I was 21, I never thought I'd be enshrined,'' Buss said during the ceremony. 

Buss, accompanied on the stage by fellow Hall of Fame members Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Pat Riley,  recalled how he "was an overly competitive, but underly endowed player'' in high school, who "turned to heavy studies'' and "eventually won a scholarship to the University of Wyoming.''

Born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City and raised in the tiny mining and sheep ranching community of Kemmerer, Wyo., Buss came to Southern California to attend graduate school at USC, where he received a doctorate in physical chemistry.

Buss taught at USC and worked in the aerospace industry, then joined with aerospace engineer Frank Mariani in forming Mariani-Buss Associates, a real estate firm, whose initial goal was to provide Buss with income to pursue his love of teaching.

Instead, Buss parlayed an original $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into a fortune that would enable him to enter professional sports ownership.

Buss made his initial foray into professional sports in 1974 when he purchased full control of the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis.

In 2006, Buss received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honored in the television category for co-founding with the late cable pioneer Bill Daniels the Prime Ticket regional cable sports channel in 1985, which showed the Lakers' home games, along with other events from the Forum, college sports and other events.

Despite others' fears that televising home games would hurt attendance, Prime Ticket generated millions of dollars annually through the sale of television rights fees and ended up bolstering the Lakers' attendance by creating greater interest in the team.

The Lakers are expected to remain in control of the Buss family. Son Jim is the team's executive vice president of player personnel and daughter Jeanie is executive vice president of business operations.

Another son, Johnny, is executive vice president of strategic development and another daughter Janie Drexel is director of charitable services, while son Jesse is director of scouting.

In addition to his five children involved with the Lakers, son Joey is chief executive officer of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers' NBA Development League affiliate.

What are your thoughts on the death of the Lakers' owner? Share your memories and condolences in the comments.

La Casa de Bernarda Alba February 18, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Dr. Jerry Buss was SHOWTIME!!! He will be missed! Condolences to the Buss & Laker Family.
OmarA. G February 18, 2013 at 06:39 PM
LEGEND, RIP.
henk friezer February 18, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Truly a nice man, very down to earth, did not flaunt his wealth. I was a news photographer covering the LA` sports scene, when Buss purchased the JKC sports domain we all asked who is this guy (none of us in the media had ever heard of him)? He turned out be a blessing to the LA sports scene, he was approachable, taking time to converse with you and was always humble. Just a plain nice man. Unlike Cook he was always present at his teams games and did not sit in the owners box but among the ordinary fans. RIP Dr Buss your legacy will remain long after any of us have departed
Spirit Of Venice February 19, 2013 at 06:57 AM
Thanks, Jerry, for giving L.A. such a GREAT basketball team all these years. We won't see the likes of you again. R.I.P.
Paul Rich February 19, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Jerry, although not original from here, became a true L.A. native. The truest, perhaps, than any luminary in memory. Like Randy Newman, he LOVED L.A. He reflected the dichotomous nature of Angelenos -- down to earth and hip Hollywood glamour. The chants in rival arenas when the Lakers played ("Beat L.A.") simply revealed their envy of Los Angeles and an erroneous image of L.A. as purely superficial and phony. True, Buss was flamboyant and a playboy. But he was also a self-made man, rising from his austere humble upbringing in Iowa where he rummaged trash cans for phone books to use as firewood to heat the tiny home he lived in with his mother. I was fortunate enough to meet Jerry Buss at Chasens restaurant where I was celebrating my mom and dad's anniversary. I was shocked when mom walked right up to his table and introduced herself as his mother's hair stylist. I had no idea. "Is this your granddaughter?" she asked. No mom, she wasn't. And I hadn't the heart to inform mom of Buss's lifestyle. We can only hope any sibling rivalry amongst the Buss children will be put to rest in the interest of Los Angeles ... and to honor the memory of the greatest owner in sports franchise history.

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