Jerry Buss, whose Los Angeles Lakers won 10 NBA titles during his nearly 34 years as owner, died Monday. He was 80.
LOS ANGELES — When Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979, he wanted to build a championship team. But that wasn’t all.
The new owner gave courtside seats to movie stars. He hired women to dance during timeouts. He spent freely on superstars and encouraged a fast-paced, exuberant style of play.
As the Lakers sprinted to 10 NBA titles, Buss sometimes cut an audacious figure in the stands — an aging playboy in jeans, often with a younger woman at 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.”
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Buss died Monday in a Los Angeles hospital. He was 80.
Buss had been hospitalized for most of the past 18 months while undergoing cancer treatment, but the immediate cause of death was kidney failure, according to his longtime spokesman, Bob Steiner.
Lakers fans will remember Buss for bringing extraordinary success — 16 trips to the NBA Finals during his nearly 34 years in charge — but perhaps equally important to his legacy was a sense of showmanship that transformed pro basketball from sport to spectacle.
“Jerry Buss helped set the league on the course it is on today,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “Remember, he showed us it was about ‘Showtime,’ the notion that an arena can become the focal point for not just basketball, but entertainment. He made it the place to see and be seen.”
Buss’ teams featured the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
“I’m crying right now,” Johnson, the first player drafted in 1979, said Monday. “Without Dr. Jerry Buss, there is no Magic.”
Buss, who earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from USC, hired brilliant coaches such as Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
“I’ve worked hard and been lucky,” Buss said. “With the combination of the two, I’ve accomplished everything I ever set out to do.”
Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, said, “The NBA, and indeed all of sports ownership, has lost a titan and innovator in Dr. Jerry Buss.”
Buss bought the then-struggling Lakers, the NHL Los Angeles Kings and both teams’ arena — the Forum — from Jack Kent Cooke in a $67.5 million deal that was the largest sports transaction in history at the time. Last month, Forbes estimated the Lakers were worth $1 billion.