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Jerry Buss, Driving Force Behind Lakers Dynasty, Dead at 79

Monday, 18 Feb 2013 12:14 PM

Jerry Buss, whose ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers spanned more than three decades and 10 National Basketball Association championships, died Monday morning. He was 79.

Buss, who was being treated for cancer, died at 5:55 a.m. local time at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the hospital. ABC News reported the immediate cause of death was kidney failure, citing Buss’s assistant.

A chemist and real-estate investor before becoming a sports franchise owner, Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 from Jack Kent Cooke as part of what was then the richest transaction in professional sports history — $67.5 million for the Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, the Forum sports arena in Los Angeles and a 13,000-acre ranch in central California. Buss sold the Kings to Bruce McNall in three stages in 1986 to 1988 for a total estimated $20 million.

Buss hired Lakers coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson and helped assemble teams with players including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. Under Buss, the team won five NBA titles in nine years in the 1980s, and five more from 2000 to 2010.

“I love him like he was my father,” Johnson said on Feb. 15, reacting to reports of Buss’s ailing health. Agent Leonard Armato, whose clients have included Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal, said Buss “always had a clear sense of how to make the Lakers the defining team in pro basketball. He did things effortlessly. There was never a negotiation with him -- it was a discussion of what’s best for everybody.”

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, in Houston for his 15th visit to the NBA All-Star game, called Buss’s overall imprint “beyond measure.”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do to really define it,” he said. “What he’s done consistently, it’s tough to really find a match for that — in any sport. He’s been a model of consistency.”


An innovator on the business side of sports, Buss helped pave the way for NBA dance teams and courtside seating of celebrities. Forbes magazine in January valued the Lakers at $1 billion, second in the league behind the New York Knicks at $1.1 billion. The Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA won two titles while owned by the Lakers and the Buss family until 2006.

Inducting Buss in 2010, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame wrote:

“Exercising leadership that brought together some of the greatest players in history, matching them with brilliant coaches, innovative management, and groundbreaking marketing, Buss helped set the ownership standard for NBA franchises.”

Buss in recent years began the process of turning the team over to his six children. Daughter Jeanie is vice president of business operations, and son Jim is executive vice president.

Describing her father to the Los Angeles Times in 2009, Jeanie Buss said, “His goal was to always have enough money to own season tickets. He never thought he would own a team.”


Gerald Hatten Buss was born Jan. 27, 1934, in Salt Lake City and grew up in Kemmerer, Wyo.

He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1955 and moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California, where he earned master’s and doctorate degrees in chemistry.

Buss took a government job as a chemist and worked in the aerospace industry before teaching chemistry at USC. He made his first real estate investment, a $1,000 stake in a Los Angeles apartment building in 1959, to supplement his teaching income. He made that investment with a co-worker, chemical engineer Frank Mariani, with whom he formed the real estate development firm Mariani-Buss Associates.

By 1979, the company owned three hotels, two office buildings, 1,005 one-family homes and almost 4,000 apartment units, and Buss was chauffeured around Los Angeles in a $127,500 Rolls-Royce, People magazine reported in 1980. The magazine called him “the driving force behind a $350 million real estate operation by day, a flamboyant man-about-town after dark.”

His first foray into team ownership was with the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis in the mid-1970s.

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Jerry Buss, whose ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers spanned more than three decades and 10 National Basketball Association championships, died Monday morning. He was 79.
Monday, 18 Feb 2013 12:14 PM
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