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Jerry Buss, Lakers owner, dies at 80

February 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Longtime Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who brought "Showtime" and 10 NBA titles to Los Angeles, died Monday. He was 80 years old.

Buss passed away at 5:55 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Four days ago, it was revealed that Buss had been battling an undisclosed cancer since last year. According to Buss' assistant Bob Steiner, the immediate cause of death was kidney failure.

Buss was admitted to Cedars-Sinai on Thursday and placed in intensive care to undergo chemotherapy.

The Buss family released a statement through the team, saying in part, "We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community."

Buss was arguably one of the greatest owners in NBA history. The Lakers made the NBA finals 16 times through 2011 during his nearly 34 years in charge, winning 10 titles between 1980 and 2010. 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, two of his six children.

Photos: Take a look back at the legacy of Lakers owner Jerry Buss

Buss was in and out of the hospital in recent years, including for treatment for dehydration in July and for blood clots in his legs in December 2011, which the team says was caused by excessive travel when Buss was involved in negotiations to end the NBA lockout.

Despite his health problems, Buss was deeply involved in the Lakers' most recent major moves. He played a role in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard coming to L.A. last summer and he was also involved with coach Mike Brown being fired early this season, as well as the hiring of Mike D'Antoni.

"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."

Gerald Hatten Buss grew up in a small town in Wyoming, population 2,000 with one stop light, one movie theater and one of everything, as he once explained during a radio interview on ESPN Los Angeles in February 2011.

"I liked it very much. I think growing up in a small community has some very distinct advantages," Buss said.

Maybe one of those advantages was a foundation of humility. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in just 2 1/2 years at the University of Wyoming, the small town boy moved to the glitz and glamour of L.A.

After owning a professional tennis team, in 1979, Buss purchased the Lakers, the L.A. Kings, the Forum and a large ranch for $67.5 million - of that net sum, the Lakers' slice of the total was $16 million. He later sold the Kings and the Forum, and now the Lakers are worth $1 billion.

Why did Buss make the investment? It's as simple as the song that's played after every Lakers home victory.

"I loved L.A. The city and myself were soul mates," said Buss.

The city embraced Buss as he continued to build an empire with his crown jewel. Winning always drove Buss.

"You start winning, it's an addiction. It is a severe addiction. You win three, four or five times, and suddenly you don't win, there's a big empty spot, and it's hard to fill that with anything else," Buss said.

Even when his chips were down and Kobe Bryant was disgruntled in 2006 inferring to be traded, Buss had a sit-down with Bryant to emphasize the Laker brand he had built.

"Our eyes met, and I said, 'You're not the only one Kobe. You know I want to win, maybe even more than you do,'" Buss said.

Read reactions to the death of Lakers owner Jerry Buss

Buss was also a pioneer of sorts. He was the first owner to introduce cheerleaders in the NBA. In his first year of ownership, the Laker Girls were born. In 2002, when the WNBA allowed individual owners, Buss took ownership of the L.A. Sparks.

From day one, he helped transform his products into pure entertainment in a town that thrives on being entertained.

Many will always consider Buss as one of the greatest owners in the history of sports. From small town boy to chemist, to real estate developer and business man, he became a Hall of Famer in 2010 - a moment that defined his extraordinary career and life.

"Especially I think as you get older, family means more and more to you, and you realize that all your accomplishments and all your efforts is something you basically do for them. To do it successfully makes you very happy and it makes life sweet. It makes life fun," Buss said.

Buss is survived by six children and eight grandchildren. Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending.

In lieu of flowers, the Buss family requests that donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation or a charity of the donor's choice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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