The curtain dropped on Showtime Monday morning as Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away at the age of 80 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Buss’ death comes just four days after it was divulged that the Lakers owner had spent the last year receiving treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer.
NBA Commissioner David Stern also issued a statement in response to Buss' passing:
“The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come. More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”
Buss’ eccentric style was tempered in recent years as he withdrew from public life and handed off control of the franchise to his oldest son, Jim. However, his decision to cede control to Jim has been scrutinized, as many insiders believe his daughter Jeannie is the better basketball executive.
In 1998, Jim famously told Sports Illustrated:
"Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult. If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts."
This season, Buss bungled the Lakers coaching situation by offering Mike D’Antoni the head coaching position while Phil Jackson mulled over the offer. Conversely, for six decades, everything Jerry Buss touched turned to gold. After being born and raised in Wyoming, Buss rose to prominence as a USC Ph.D grad before making most of his millions investing in Los Angeles real estate. All before purchasing the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979.
If late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones epitomized meddlesome owners, Buss set the purple gold standard for NBA ownership in Los Angeles. During his nascent years as owner, the ‘kid from Wyoming’ used his savvy to transform The Forum into an en vogue destination for Hollywood celebs.
The Showtime Lakers eventually emerged as a brainchild of Buss’ marketing expertise and, in 1981, after firing head coach Paul Westhead, Buss replaced him with broadcast analyst Pat Riley, who would proceed to coach four championship teams in Los Angeles. In 2010, Buss was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Buss’ death will undoubtedly serve as a rallying point for the franchise which he led to 10 championships and 16 NBA Finals’ in 33 seasons as owner. However, Buss’ death comes at an inopportune time for the franchise which is stuck at 10th in the Western Conference, despite owning the league’s highest payroll. Buss’ impact on the Lakers has set the Lakers up for another generation of success. The burden is now on Jim to live up to his father’s looming legacy.