Jerry Buss, L.A. Lakers owner, dies at 80

Jerry Buss was the Los Angeles Lakers' playboy Jerry Buss was the Los Angeles Lakers' playboy owner who shepherded the NBA franchise to 10 championships. (June 18, 1981) Photo Credit: AP

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LOS ANGELES -- The NBA lost a true giant of the game as Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss died yesterday. He was 80 years old.

Considered one of the greatest and most successful owners not just in the NBA but in all of sports, Buss was a visionary and innovator who helped bring Showtime to Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Buss died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his assistant, Bob Steiner, told The Associated Press. He had been hospitalized for cancer, but the immediate cause of death was kidney failure, Steiner said.

According to a statement from the Lakers, Buss had been hospitalized much of the past 18 months.

"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.''

His leadership and checkbook enabled the Lakers to win 10 NBA titles from 1980 to 2010. He always was willing to pay for the best talent, and Buss' Lakers had some all-time great players -- from Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant -- and iconic coaches such as Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 draft, and Abdul-Jabbar, big-name players who made the home-court Forum the place to be in the 1980s, helped the Lakers win five championships in eight NBA Finals appearances during Buss' first decade as owner.

Buss was a playboy who connected with many of his players. He was especially close with Johnson, who called Buss "a father figure and best friend" during a series of tweets yesterday.

"I will always remember Dr. Buss' big smile, his love for the @Lakers, for poker & billiards, for the City of LA and for beautiful women," Johnson tweeted.

With Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar leading the way in the 1980s, Buss and the Lakers rekindled the much-needed rivalry with the Celtics, led by Larry Bird. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the Finals became a prime-time event and helped save the NBA.

Buss, who earned a Ph.D in chemistry at age 24 and made his fortune largely from real-estate deals, purchased the Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Forum from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67.5 million. During his nearly 34 years in charge, the Lakers reached 16 NBA Finals and missed the playoffs only twice. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Two of his six children, Jim and Jeanie Buss, run the Lakers.

"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.

The Lakers went through a title drought in the 1990s, but Buss soon had his franchise back among the NBA's elite. O'Neal and Bryant joined the Lakers in the summer of 1996, and Buss' hiring of Jackson in 1999 resulted in three straight championships. Bryant and Jackson won two more titles, this time with Pau Gasol, in 2009 and 2010.

"He's meant everything to me in my career in terms of taking a 17-year-old kid out of high school and believing in me throughout my entire career," Bryant said during All-Star Weekend in Houston. "As for the game itself, the brand of basketball he implemented, Showtime, carried the league. Thinking about the rivalry that took place between the Lakers and the Celtics and what that did for the global outreach of the game, it reached me, and I was in Italy, only 6 years old."

Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending.

With AP

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