True Hollywood owner

LOS ANGELES — When Jerry Buss bought the Lakers in 1979, he wanted to build a championship team. But that wasn't all.

The new owner gave courtside seats to movie stars. He hired pretty women to dance during timeouts. He spent freely on big stars and encouraged a fast-paced, exuberant style of play.

As the Lakers sprinted to one NBA title after another, he cut an audacious figure in the stands, an aging playboy in jeans, often with a younger woman by his side.

"I really tried to create a Laker image, a distinct identity," he once said. "I think we've been successful. I mean, the Lakers are pretty damn Hollywood."

Mr. Buss died Monday of complications of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to his longtime spokesman, Bob Steiner. He was 80.

Lakers fans will remember Mr. Buss for bringing extraordinary success — 10 championships in three-plus decades — but equally important to his legacy was a sense of showmanship that transformed pro basketball from sport to spectacle.

"Jerry Buss helped set the league on the course it is on today," commissioner David Stern said. "Remember, he showed us it was about 'Showtime,' the notion that an arena can become the focal point for not just basketball, but entertainment. He made it the place to see and be seen."

His teams featured the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. He hired Hall of Fame-caliber coaches in Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

"I've worked hard and been lucky," Mr. Buss said. "With the combination of the two, I've accomplished everything I ever set out to do."

"We have lost a true giant," Riley said. "Jerry Buss was more than just an owner. He was one of the great innovators that any sport has ever encountered. He was a true visionary and it was obvious with the Lakers in the '80's that 'Showtime' was more than just Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was really the vision of a man who saw something that connected with a community."

Few sports owners can approach Mr. Buss' accomplishments with the Lakers, who made the NBA Finals 16 times during his tenure. With 1,786 victories, the Lakers easily are the NBA's winningest franchise since he bought the club, now run largely by Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss, two of his six children.

"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.

"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."

True Hollywood owner 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 9:15pm]

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