LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Dr. Jerry Buss, whose ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers transformed the team into one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports, died on Monday. He was 80 years old.
Buss had been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for “an undisclosed form of cancer,” CBS2 News had previously confirmed, but the Associated Press reported the immediate cause of death was kidney failure.
“We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community,” a statement released on behalf of the Buss family said. “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.”
Under Buss, the Lakers evolved into one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports. The team won 10 NBA Championships under his ownership, making Buss the winningest coach in professional sports, and the Lakers were recently valued at $900 million by Forbes.
»PHOTO GALLERY: Jerry Buss 1933-2013
He purchased the team and its former home, the Great Western Forum, from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979. He also acquired the Los Angeles Kings – which he later sold – and a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County as part of the $67 million deal.
The Lakers won an NBA championship in Buss’ first season as owner. Buss’ early years of ownership added four more titles in the following eight seasons.
Buss purchased the Lakers right after the team drafted Hall of Famer and Lakers legendary point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who called Buss “a great man and an incredible friend.”
Despite an often rocky relationship with guard Kobe Bryant that ultimately ended with his being traded to the Miami Heat, former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal remained a longtime supporter of Buss.
CBS2 Sports Director Jim Hill told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that Buss was greatly admired by his colleagues after decades of winning championships.
“He had great insight, he knew exactly what he wanted to get done, he set the standard for what other owners are doing in the 80s, 90s, and now the 2000s,” said Hill.
During Buss’ time, the Lakers also became the first basketball team to have a dance squad – the Laker Girls, who have a devoted following and inspired the creation of similar squads by every other team in the league.
KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reports a woman who managed The Forum in Inglewood remembered Buss transformed the face of local sports.
“He made it fun,” said 84-year-old Claire Rothman, who ran The Forum under both Jack Kent and Buss. “He gave me free reign, make the deals you want, do the things you want to build it, but he always taught me never to take advantage of anybody.”
“The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable & will be felt for decades to come,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement.
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Buss, who earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Southern California by age 24, suffered from several medical setbacks in recent years.
In 2011, he suffered blood clots in his legs from “excessive travel.” He also underwent an undisclosed surgery in August of last year.
Retired NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted the following statement on his Facebook page:
“When someone as celebrated and charismatic as Jerry Buss dies, we are reminded of two things. First, just how much one person with vision and strength of will can accomplish. Second, how fragile each of us is, regardless of how powerful we were. Those two things combine to inspire us to reach for the stars, but also to remain with our feet firmly on the ground among our loved ones,” he wrote. “Dr. Buss embodied that compassionate entrepreneurial spirit. He strove to reach greater heights without forgetting his community roots. During his stewardship, the Lakers exemplified his personal standards of excellence and became one of the dominant teams in the NBA and a force of good within the community. The man may be gone, but he has made us all better people for knowing him.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued the following statement on Buss’ passing:
“Dr. Jerry Buss was a cornerstone of the Los Angeles sports community and his name will always be synonymous with his beloved Lakers. It was through his stewardship that the Lakers brought ‘Showtime’ basketball and numerous championship rings to this great City.
“Today we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a man who helped shape the modern landscape of sports in LA, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
He is survived by sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel, all of Southern California; eight grandchildren; former wife JoAnn of Las Vegas; half sister Susan Hall of Phoenix; half brother Micky Brown of Scottsdale; and stepbrother Jim Brown of Star Valley, Wyoming.
Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the Buss family requested that donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation or a charity of the donor’s choice.