Buss always referred to the Lakers as his extended family, and his players rewarded his fanlike excitement with devotion, friendship and two hands full of championship rings. Working with front-office executives West, Bill Sharman and Mitch Kupchak, Buss spent lavishly to win his titles, often running the NBA’s highest payroll while also paying high-profile coaches Riley and Phil Jackson.
Ownership of the Lakers is now in a trust controlled by Buss’ six children, who all have worked for the Lakers in various capacities for several years. With 1,786 victories, the Lakers easily are the NBA’s winningest franchise since he bought the club, which is now run largely by Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss.
‘‘We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community,’’ the Buss family said in a statement issued by the Lakers.
‘‘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.’’
Johnson and fellow Hall of Famers Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy formed lifelong bonds with Buss during the Lakers’ run to five titles in nine years in the 1980s, when the Lakers earned a reputation as basketball’s most exciting team.
The buzz extended throughout the Forum, where Buss turned the Lakers’ games into a must-see event. He used the Laker Girls, a brass band and promotions to keep Lakers fans interested during all four quarters. Courtside seats, priced at $15 when he bought the Lakers, became the hottest tickets in Hollywood — and they still are, with fixture Jack Nicholson and many other celebrities attending every home game.
‘‘Anybody associated with the NBA since 1980 benefited greatly from Jerry Buss’ impact on the game,’’ Steiner said. ‘‘He had a different way of looking at things than I did, and people who had been raised in basketball.’’
Buss paid the Lakers’ bills through both their wild success and his groundbreaking moves to raise revenue. He co-founded a basic-cable sports television network and sold the naming rights to the Forum at times when both now-standard strategies were unusual, further justifying his induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Just last year, the Lakers debuted on two new cable sports networks in a groundbreaking deal with Time Warner worth a reported $5 billion.
‘‘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. ‘‘More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend.’’
Showtime couldn’t last forever, but after a rough stretch in the 1990s, Buss rekindled the Lakers’ mystique by paying top dollar to hire Jackson, who led O'Neal and Bryant to a three-peat from 2000-02. Bryant and Gasol won two more titles under Jackson in 2009 and 2010.
The current Lakers (25-29) have struggled mightily despite adding Howard and Steve Nash in a couple of moves that were typical of Buss’ brash style. Los Angeles could miss the playoffs this spring for just the third time since Buss bought the franchise.
‘‘Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball,’’ Gasol tweeted. ‘‘All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss.’’
Although Buss gained fame and another fortune with the Lakers, he also was a scholar, Renaissance man and bon vivant who epitomized California cool his entire public life.
Buss rarely appeared in public without at least one attractive, much younger woman on his arm — at Southern California football games, high-stakes poker tournaments, hundreds of boxing matches promoted by Buss at the Forum — and, of course, Lakers games from his private box at Staples Center, which was built under his watch. With his failing health, Buss hadn’t attended a Lakers game in the past two seasons.
After a rough-and-tumble childhood that included stints as a ditch-digger and a bellhop in the frigid Wyoming winters, Buss earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from USC at 24, and had careers in aerospace and real estate development before getting into sports.
With money from his real-estate ventures and a good bit of creative accounting, Buss bought the then-struggling Lakers, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and both clubs’ arena — the Forum — from Jack Kent Cooke in a $67.5 million deal that was the largest sports transaction in history at the time.
Last month, Forbes estimated the Lakers were worth $1 billion, second most in the NBA.Continued...