Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who helped transform the franchise into the most successful and glamorous team in North American professional sports, died today, the team and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center confirm. He was 80.
Buss died at 5:55 a.m., according to Cedars-Sinai spokeswoman Sally Stewart.
Buss had spent time in the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with an undisclosed form of cancer, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In December 2011, he was hospitalized for treatment of blood clots in his legs that officials said were caused by extensive traveling.
“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.
Buss had been hospitalized for much of the past 18 months in a battle which “showed his amazing strength and will to live. 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,” the statement concluded.
Buss 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.
The Lakers are expected to remain in control of the Buss family. Buss’s son Jim is the team’s executive vice president of player personnel, and his daughter, Jeanie, is executive vice president of business operations.
Another son, Johnny, is executive vice president of strategic development; and daughter Janie Drexel is director of charitable services. Buss’s son Jesse is director of scouting.
In addition to his five children involved with the Lakers, son Joey is chief executive officer of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers’ NBA Development League affiliate.
“Dr. Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy,” Hall of Fame forward James Worthy, who played with the Lakers from 1982 until 1994, wrote on his Twitter account. “Loved him dearly.”
In a statement the Los Angeles Dodgers organization extended “its deepest sympathies to the Buss family and the Los Angeles Lakers’ organization on the passing of one of the greatest owners in NBA history.” The statement continued, “Jerry Buss made great contributions to the sporting landscape of Los Angeles and America and was a true champion in every sense of the word. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family.”
In 1979, Buss purchased the Lakers, Forum, Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a 13,000-acre Kern County ranch from Jack Kent Cooke for $67.5 million, then the largest transaction in sports history.
When Buss purchased the team, it had won one championship in the previous 25 seasons and had lost nine times in the NBA finals during that span, including four seven-game series.
Buss combined show business glamour and sex appeal with shrewd personnel moves – both on and off the court – to make the Lakers become what NBA Commissioner David Stern once said was “the standard by which all L.A. sports franchises and most American franchises get measured.”
In Buss’ first season as owner, the Lakers won the NBA championship, then added four more titles in the following eight seasons, as the Magic Johnson-led fast-breaking “Showtime” offense enthralled both the general public and celebrities like Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson, who became regulars in the courtside seats.
Under Buss, the Lakers became the first basketball team to have a dance squad: the Laker Girls, who also developed a devoted following and inspired creation of similar squads by every other team in the league.
The Lakers won three more NBA championships from 2000-2002 with teams led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bryant-led teams won titles in 2009 and 2010.
The Lakers’ 10 championships under Buss’ ownership are the most by a team in any of the four major North American professional leagues since he purchased the team. Buss’ 10 championships as an owner are the most in NBA history.
Buss was selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. During the induction ceremony at the Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., the site of the Hall of Fame, Buss said he was “probably happier than anyone” to be inducted “because most of the people that come up here have an inkling of the idea someday they may make the Hall of Fame.
“Believe me, when I was 21, I never thought I’d be enshrined,” Buss said during the ceremony
Buss, accompanied on the stage by fellow Hall of Fame members Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Pat Riley, recalled how he “was an overly competitive, but utterly endowed player” in high school, who “turned to heavy studies” and “eventually won a scholarship to the University of Wyoming.”
Born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City and raised in the tiny mining and sheep ranching community of Kemmerer, Wyo., Buss came to Southern California to attend graduate school at USC, where he received a doctorate in physical chemistry.
Buss taught at USC and worked in the aerospace industry, then joined with aerospace engineer Frank Mariani in forming Mariani-Buss Associates, a real estate firm, whose initial goal was to provide Buss with income to pursue his love of teaching.
Instead, Buss parlayed an original $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into a fortune that would enable him to enter professional sports ownership.
Buss made his initial foray into professional sports in 1974 when he purchased full control of the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis.
In 2006, Buss received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honored in the television category for co-founding with the late cable pioneer Bill Daniels the Prime Ticket regional cable sports channel in 1985, which showed the Lakers’ home games, along with other events from the Forum, college sports and other events.
Despite others’ fears that televising home games would hurt attendance, Prime Ticket generated millions of dollars annually through the sale of television rights fees and ended up bolstering the Lakers’ attendance by creating greater interest in the team.
Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending, according to a statement by the Lakers. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation or a charity of the donor’s choice.