Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers' owner, dies at 80

By Andrew Dalton

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 18 2013 10:00 a.m. MST

Worthy tweeted that Buss was "not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly."

After a rough stretch of the 1990s for the Lakers, Jackson led O'Neal and Bryant to a three-peat from 2000-02, rekindling the Lakers' mystique, before Bryant and Pau Gasol won two more titles under Jackson in 2009 and 2010. The Lakers have struggled mightily during their current season despite adding Howard and Steve Nash, and could miss the playoffs 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 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 USC 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. In failing health recently, Buss hadn't attended a Lakers game this season.

Buss earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at age 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.

Buss also helped change televised sports by co-founding the Prime Ticket network in 1985, receiving a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 for his work in television. Breaking the contemporary model of subscription services for televised sports, Buss' Prime Ticket put beloved broadcaster Chick Hearn and the Lakers' home games on basic cable.

Buss also sold the naming rights to the Forum in 1988 to Great Western Savings & Loan another deal that was ahead of its time.

Born in Salt Lake City, Gerald Hatten Buss was raised in poverty in Wyoming before improving his life through education. He also grew to love basketball, describing himself as an "overly competitive but underly endowed player."

After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Buss attended USC for graduate school. He became a chemistry professor and worked as a chemist for the Bureau of Mines before carving out a path to wealth and sports prominence.

The former mathematician's fortune grew out of a $1,000 real-estate investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building with partner Frank Mariani, an aerospace engineer and co-worker.

Heavily leveraging his fortune and various real-estate holdings, Buss purchased Cooke's entire Los Angeles sports empire in 1979, including a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County. Buss cited his love of basketball as the motivation for his purchase, and he immediately worked to transform the Lakers who had won just one NBA title since moving west from Minneapolis in 1960 into a star-powered endeavor befitting Hollywood.

"One of the first things I tried to do when I bought the team was to make it an identification for this city, like Motown in Detroit," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. "I try to keep that identification alive. I'm a real Angeleno. I want us to be part of the community."

Buss' plans immediately worked: Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and coach Paul Westhead led the Lakers to the 1980 title. Johnson's ball-handling wizardry and Abdul-Jabbar's smooth inside game made for an attractive style of play evoking Hollywood flair and West Coast sophistication.

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