1 Jerry Buss: A showman who made Los Angeles a Lakers town

11:38 AM, Feb 18, 2013   |    comments
Jerry Buss, center, being greeted by the Lakers Girls after being honored with a television star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October 2006(Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)
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LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Buss, in Los Angeles, was simply synonymous with championships.

He loved to party and gamble and travel and savor the many flavors of the world, but he also loved to win, and he did what he could to keep the Los Angeles Lakers adding to their NBA titles.

Buss passed away Monday, according to one of his sons, Jim Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel.

Jerry Buss battled cancer for a long time, and his death will be felt deeply in the Lakers family and throughout the NBA.

Buss -- listed as born in 1933 by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2010, and 1934 by many other sites --- was generous with players, and generally treated them like royalty during and after their careers. Many players, past and present, had been visiting him at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in the past weeks.

Even when NBA rules put penalties on large payrolls, Buss kept adding to the Lakers' payroll, willing to pay the luxury taxes required for going over the salary cap if it meant a better chance to win another championship.

In all, the Lakers won 10 titles under Buss' ownership, featuring some of the biggest stars in the league's history - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

At a certain point, Buss' Lakers became the dominant sports franchise in town, eclipsing the popularity of the venerable Los Angeles Dodgers. In its latest NBA valuations, Forbes last month listed the Lakers at $1 billion, second only to the New York Knicks at $1.1 billion.

Buss didn't speak much in public, but his shrewdness was evident in the choices he made for the Lakers - Jerry West as general manager, Phil Jackson as coach.

And when a tough decision reared its head - keep Bryant or O'Neal - Buss traded the aging O'Neal, kept Bryant and then watched Bryant lead the Lakers to two more championships.

Buss loved the entertainment aspect of the team, and his team featured sexy dancers - the Laker Girls - long before that was a standard of the league. He also favored an entertaining style, and he was in his glory when Johnson orchestrated the fast-breaking Showtime Laker teams that won five titles in the 1980s.

Buss and Jackson occasionally clashed over Jackson's methodical triangle offense, which became boring when the Lakers were short of talent following O'Neal's departure. But he fired and re-hired Jackson, the so-called Zen Master, seemingly always keeping the business aspect of the deals separate from the personal. Jackson and Buss' daughter, Jeannie, were a steady item during the coach's two tenures with the Lakers.

Buss made his fortune in the run-up on real estate in California in the 1960s and '70s and bought the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979.

He won a title the next year, in 1980 - Johnson's rookie year - and the Lakers were off and running. They won four more that decade, then three in a row from 2000-02 with O'Neal and Bryant as the leading stars, then two more in 2009-10 with an aging Bryant teaming with Pau Gasol. The Lakers' championship total reached 16, one behind those won by the Boston Celtics.

The Lakers, under Buss' son Jim, made an impressive bid to tie the Celtics with a 17th title by acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash before this season and forming a roster that many observers felt was good enough to win a championship. But the mixture hasn't worked, and the Lakers went into the All-Star break below .500, several games out of a playoff spot.

Buss turned 79 last month, and he had not to that point attended a Lakers game all season. He was hospitalized for a blood clot in 2011 and spent some time in a hospital last year with an intestinal problem.

GERALD HATTEN "JERRY" BUSS

Born: Jan. 27, 1934; grew up in Kemmerer, Wyo., 130 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, where he was born

Education: University of Wyoming (Bachelor's in chemistry), Southern California (Ph.D in physical chemistry)

Family: Survived by sons Jim, executive vice president of player personnel for the Lakers; Johnny, executive vice president of strategic development for the Lakers, Jesse, Lakers' director of scouting and Joey, CEO and president of the Lakers' Development League team, D-Fenders; daughters Jeanie, executive vice president of business operations for the Lakers and Janie, Lakers' director of charitable services

Hall of Fame: Inducted in 2010 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Best parlay: An avid poker player, Buss turned a $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into assets enabling him to buy into sports ownership....He was well known at the World Series of Poker. He last played it in 2011, including 12 official WSOP gold bracelet events. In a statement on his passing, the WSOP said: "Jerry epitomizes what makes the game of poker so great. Everyone is on equal footing when you enter a poker tournament. And Jerry Buss acted and carried himself as a dignified gentlemen throughout. There is no doubt he was competitive and liked to win, but to anyone who had the pleasure of interacting with him at the World Series of Poker, you left better for the experience and rooting for him and his Lakers."

Sports ownership over the years: Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis; Los Angeles Lakers; Los Angeles Kings; WNBA Los Angeles Sparks; soccer's Los Angeles Lazers

Trivia: Buss grew up wanting to be a teacher, taught at USC for a few years, worked in the aerospace industry and then went into in real estate

Quote: "Some people own sports franchises more as a business, a steppingstone to fame. But I own it mainly because I love it. It's a corny line, but they say, 'When you bleed, you bleed for blue and gold.' I was a Laker fan a long time before I was fortunate enough to own them." -- Buss, in 2006 interview for a joint project between the Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune and the Casper Journal

By Rachel Shuster, USA TODAY Sports

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