|Jerry Buss memorial at the Nokia Theater. (Author' s personal collection)|
In 1979, the already historic Los Angeles Lakers were about to enter a new chapter. The largest sports transaction at that time had taken place. A man by the name of Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers of the NBA, the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, and The Forum arena in Inglewood, California.
Dr. Buss earned a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Wyoming and received a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Southern California. Upon completion of his schooling, Buss taught at USC and worked for a short time in the aerospace industry where he met Frank Mariani. The pair soon founded a real estate firm named Mariani-Buss Associates. While Buss originally intended the firm to solely provide income while he pursued his true love of teaching, rapid expansion caused there to be no time for any other profession. His real estate business, which started with only a $1,000 investment, now expanded from California to Nevada and Arizona. Eventually, Buss acquired enough assets to allow him to purchase the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke.
Shortly after entering the league, Dr. Buss helped launch the Prime Ticket Network (now Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket) in 1985. Prime Ticket allowed people in the Los Angeles area to watch every Laker home game, something not available in previous seasons. Thanks to the interest in the Showtime Lakers, Prime Ticket Network became the standard for regional sports broadcasting.
In 1988, Buss completed an enormous marketing deal with Great Western Bank. The Forum was renamed the Great Western Forum. This move was met by resistance, especially from Southern California residents who didn’t want a historic arena being renamed due to advertising. While controversial at the time, selling arena naming rights has since become commonplace across all major sports in America.
Under Dr. Buss, the Lakers won 10 championships while playing in the NBA Finals 16 times. They reached the Western Conference Finals six times and only missed the playoffs twice. In those 33 years, the Lakers added players such as Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Pat Riley and Phil Jackson were also brought in to coach.
Buss loved the Los Angeles community as much as Los Angeles loved him. Each year he would donate thousands of dollars, tickets, merchandise and autographed items to schools, neighborhoods, libraries, churches and various non-profit organizations in Southern California. In 2009, he donated $100,000 to help fight homelessness in L.A. When a worldwide natural disaster struck, Buss was quick to send donations to aid the recoveries. He also used his love of poker to host tournaments that would help charities such as Smile Train.
After three-plus decades of leading the Lakers, Dr. Buss was admitted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. Less than three years later, one of the great visionaries in professional sports history quietly passed away after a battle with cancer on Feb. 18, 2013. Southern California, and the entire sports world, will never forget him.
“I’ve worked hard and been lucky. With the combination of the two, I’ve accomplished everything I ever set out to do” — Dr. Jerry Buss