Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, died due to cancer complications Monday morning. He was 80 years old. Hospitalized for cancer last week, Buss died due to kidney failure, according to reports.
Buss helped lead the basketball franchise to 10 championships after buying the team in 1979. He turned the Lakers into the city of Los Angeles’ darlings and emphasized showmanship as an important element of the team’s essence and allure — best exemplified by the ‘Showtime’ teams of the 1980s led by Magic Johnson that won five championships.
Buss took Johnson under his wing and made him a close, personal friend. Johnson was just one of several all-time NBA stars that Buss acquired, nurtured and befriended.
With a true rags-to-riches story growing up poor in Wyoming and becoming rich through savvy Southern California real estate deals after graduating from USC with a doctorate in chemistry, Buss was able to relate with everyone from the stadium workers to those in the luxury suites.
Buss knew how to have a good time and everyone around him usually enjoyed that as well. He often had younger women with him at games and he was charming with celebrities, making Lakers’ games the place to be and to be seen. From the Los Angeles Times:
The new owner gave courtside seats to movie stars. He hired pretty women to dance during timeouts. He spent freely on big stars and encouraged a fast-paced, exuberant style of play.
As the Lakers sprinted to one NBA title after another, Buss cut an audacious figure in the stands, an aging playboy in blue jeans, often with a younger woman by his side.
“I really tried to create a Laker image, a distinct identity,” he once said. “I think we’ve been successful. I mean, the Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood.”
Buss’ leadership and fearlessness when it came to spending helped him become a real estate magnate and then make the Lakers into one of the preeminent NBA franchise. The Lakers dominated the 1980s before struggling in the 1990s and rekindling the purple and gold glory in the 2000s with five championships under the guidance of head coach Phil Jackson.