Lakers Owner Jerry Buss Dies at Age 80, Leaving Behind “Unparalleled Legacy”

The 80-year-old Buss, who has been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, bought the Lakers in 1979. The franchise went on to win 10 NBA titles.

Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who brought "Showtime" and an NBA dynasty to Los Angeles, has died at age 80 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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Buss died at 5:55 a.m. Monday, according to Medical Center spokeswoman Sally Stewart. On Thursday, sources familiar with the situation had confirmed that Buss had been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai with an undisclosed form of cancer.

"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 -- the Lakers won 10 NBA titles since he bought the team -- had been hospitalized for much of the past 18 months, according to a family statement that cited a "long illness." He spent time in a hospital last summer for dehydration. In December 2011, he was hospitalized for treatment of blood clots in his legs that officials said were caused by extensive traveling.

A family spokesman said at a noon news conference that the cause of death was kidney failure. Health problems prevented Buss from attending Lakers games during the past two seasons, but family spokesman Bob Steiner said he watched games on television.

Steiner did not provide details regarding Buss' illness.

"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend."

Buss had owned the Lakers since 1979. The franchise won 10 of its 16 NBA titles under under his ownership. Buss had recently put his son Jim in charge of more of the team’s day-to-day operations. Daughter Jeanie Buss is the team's head of business operations.

"It was our father’s often stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family," the Buss family said in a statement. "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."

Buss earned a Ph.D in physical chemistry from the University of Southern California before becoming one of the most influential figures in Southern California sports in the late 1970s. In 1979, he also bought the Los Angeles Kings, the Forum -- which became the place to be seen in a city of stars -- and a ranch for $67.5 million.

"I really want to have fun with this thing," Buss said at the time he purchased the Lakers.

The fun began immediately for the Lakers and their fans. The team drafted Earvin "Magic" Johnson out of Michigan State and then went on to win the NBA title in Buss' first season.

The Lakers won their second NBA title under Buss two years later before another championship in 1985 with a victory in the finals over rival Boston. By the late 1980s, the "Showtime" Lakers were in the spotlight with Hollywood celebrities in line for front-row seats to watch the dynasty win back-to-back NBA crown in 1987 and 1988.

"RIP Jerry Buss. Your encouragement and support along with your stories of staying true to yourself had an enormous impact on me," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted.

Buss added to the "Showtime" Lakers sideline spectacle when he created the Laker Girls, the dance team that developed its own devoted following and provided inspiration for similar squads. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"This one day, I think I've received more happiness than I've given away over the past two years, or so," Buss said on the day his star was unveiled.

The NBA's 1990s power-shift brought an era dominated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Lakers went without a title in the decade before the organization returned to championship glory behind Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson with NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

"He loved the Showtime, but he loved the championships in the 2000s, as well," said Steiner.

LA's free-agent moves brought two more titles in 2009 and 2010, when Buss was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Believe me, when I was 21, I never thought I'd be enshrined,'' Buss  said during the ceremony, at which he was joined on stage by former players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson, and coach Pat Riley.

Buss was born Jan. 27, 1933 in Salt Lake City. He grew up in the ranching community of Kemmerer, Wyo. and attended the University of Wyoming before moving to Southern California for graduate studies.

He formed the real estate firm Mariani-Buss Associates and taught at USC before parlaying money from the real estate business into professional sports ownership. Buss purchased the Los Angeles String of World Team Tennis in 1974 before buying the Lakers five years later.

Steiner was working for the World Team Tennis public relations department when he met Buss.

"He looked at things differently than most sports people I ever knew," Steiner said.

Confirmation of his death prompted reaction from current and former Lakers. Steiner said a tweet from former Laker James Worthy best described Buss.

"Condolences to the Buss family. Dr Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly," Worthy tweeted Monday morning.

Worthy won three NBA titles as a member of the Buss-owned Lakers.

Laker Pau Gasol tweeted, "Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball. All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss."

The Dodgers also issued a statement on Buss' death, calling him "one of the greatest owners in NBA history.

"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," the Dodgers organization said in the statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family."

Funeral and memorial service arrangement are pending, according to the Buss family statement. The family requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation.

Buss is survived by sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel; eight grandchildren; former wife JoAnn; half-sister Susan Hall of Phoenix; half-brother Micky Brown of Scottsdale; and stepbrother Jim Brown of Star Valley, Wyoming.

Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated Dr. Buss was 79. He was 80, according to a Lakers spokesman.


[View the story "Fans Remember Jerry Buss As 'Greatest Owner in NBA History'" on Storify]
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