Jerry Buss, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, died this morning at age 80 after battling cancer for 12 months.
Buss had owned the Lakers since 1979. During his time as owner the franchise won 10 NBA Championships, building teams around stars like Magic Johnson, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. All four of these stars visited Buss in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center over the last week, reports the LA Times.
Here’s what you need to know about Buss’ life and death.
1. Buss had Been in and out of Hospital for the Past Year
The Lakers owner was hospitalized in 2011 with a blood clot in his leg and in 2012 with intestinal problems, a condition he never fully recovered from. A previously undisclosed cancer diagnosis saw Buss admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in February 2013. His condition deteriorated, and he died at around 5:55 a.m on February 18. The Los Angeles Times was the first to report his death.
2. Buss’ Children Are Running the Lakers
The Buss family has 66 percent ownership of the team and confirms it will retain that stake after his death. Between his son, Jim, and daughter, Jeanie, the Lakers business is well looked after. Jim concentrates on the sports side of the business while Jeanie looks after the financial operations. The Lakers are now valued at around $1 billion, recently inking a $3.6 billion dollar deal with Time Warner for broadcasting rights, according to Forbes.
3. The Lakers Are in Turmoil
On the court, the Lakers (25-29) are suffering through their fourth-worst season since moving to L.A. in 1960. Off the court, there’s more trouble. With Lakers valuation up to $1 billion, a massive tax bill is expected. The team has a massive payroll ($176 million, the NBA’s highest) and recently brought in stars like Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, 25 percent shareholder AEG putting is putting itself up for sale for $8 billion, and a man known as the “wealthiest man in L.A.,” Patrick Soon-Shiong, bought a 5 percent share in the Lakers in 2010 from Magic Johnson. This could be a real period of transition to the LA Lakers.
4. Kobe Bryant Took Time out During All-Star Weekend to Praise Buss
Bryant told FoxSportsWest.com:
You think about the rivalry that took place between the Lakers and the Celtics and what that did for the global outreach of the game. I mean, it reached me and I was all the way in Italy and I was only 6 years old…
[Buss’s overall impact on the game]…It’s beyond measure. There’s nothing you can do to really define it. What he’s done consistently, it’s tough to really find a match for that in any sport. He’s been a model of consistency.
He’s extremely, extremely intelligent and extremely patient, he has his goals. He knows exactly what he wants to do and how he wants to construct the ballclub.
He’s just extremely, extremely smart going about it, it’s very rare to find that kind of owner that can seemingly not make any mistakes. It’s pretty impressive.
5. Buss bought the Lakers for Just $16 million in 1979
Buss purchased the Lakers, along with the Los Angeles Kings, and the L.A. Forum from former owner Jack Kent-Cooke in 1979. The whole deal came to over $67 million, making it the largest sports transaction in history at the time. The Lakers accounted for $16 million of that deal. At the time CBS and the USA Network were paying just $20 million to broadcast the season; the league was a very different place from the financial juggernaut it is today. 1979 also was the year that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA. Buss sold the LA Kings in 1987.
6. Under his watch the Lakers won 10 NBA Championships
The LA Lakers celebrated ten championships and 16 finals appearances during Buss’s ownership of the franchise. From the 1980s team of Magic and Kareem, and their battles with the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird, to the Showtime era of the 2000s with Kobe and Shaq. It was a good time to be a Lakers fan.
7. Despite His Illness, Buss Was Heavily Involved in Big Lakers Decisions
Buss was forever passionate about the Lakers. Despite his declining health the LA Times reported that:
He weighed in heavily on the hiring of Coach Mike D’Antoni(above) in November and, a few months before that, was eager to meet Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, two high-profile Lakers additions who visited him separately after being acquired.
8. Buss Hadn’t Attended a Lakers This Season
Doctors had determined that Buss’ condition ruled him out of attending any Lakers games this season. And judging by the team’s performances so far, Buss was probably grateful.
9. Buss Was a Dedicated Poker Player
Despite his business interests, Buss was an enthusiastic poker player. In 1991, he finished third in the World Series of poker, and in 2003 he made it to second in the World Poker Tour.
10. Buss Had Very Humble Beginnings
Buss was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, but was raised in Wyoming during the depression. He had spoken previously about spending hours in breadlines for his family. A gifted student, he won a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where he earned a bachelor of science degree. From there he attended the University of Southern California, earning a doctorate in physical chemistry.
He worked on faculty at USC while also working in aerospace and for the Mine Health and Safety Administration (he grew up in a mining region in Wyoming). Buss only got into real estate to supplement his income so that he could remain teaching at USC. In 1960 he invested $1,000 in a West Los Angeles apartment complex development. From there he went from strength to strength in the markets. The same year he purchased the Lakers, Buss bought Mary Pickford’s mansion from her estate for $5.3 million. Throughout his investing career Buss remained a philanthropist of education, particularly for USC.