Iconic and legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss, considered one of the greatest owners in the history of sports, is reportedly dying of cancer at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and has summoned close friends and family to his side.
This has been a trying year for the Lakers franchise and the Buss family. Buss’s son Jim, who runs the team, is blamed for putting the Lakers into a tailspin by not hiring Phil Jackson, who won five championship rings with the Lakers (with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derek Fisher) after winning six with the Chicago Bulls, even though this Lakers team, with two high-post players in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard along with an aging Kobe Bryant seemed primed for the Jackson’s patented Triangle Offense.
After unceremoniously firing Mike Brown, Buss decided to hire Mike D’Antoni, a coach who has never been known for defense and whose fast-paced offensive schemes seemed ill-suited for the aging Lakers. There have been reports that Buss has never been comfortable with his sister — and Jerry Buss’s daughter Jeanie — dating Jackson.
The family, earlier this year, released a statement indicating the family had “unanimously” agreed that they had no “intention of ever selling the Lakers” and intended “to keep ownership of the team in our family for generations to come.”
Buss bought the Lakers franchise in 1979. With Earvin “Magic” Johnson, out of Michigan State, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, out of North Carolina, Byron Scott, out of Arizona State and Morningside High School in Inglewood, CA, Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis and coach Pat Riley, who replaced Paul Westhead, Buss did he all he could to promote the “Showtime” brand and era.
He made the Great Western Forum – and then the Staples Center – the destination for Los Angeles’s celebrities to be seen. He made the Laker Girls cheerleaders to the NBA what the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have been to the NFL. His Lakers became a cultural institution in Los Angeles. In a city that is often apathetic about sports, the Lakers, under Buss, were to Los Angeles what football is to schools in the South and baseball is to New York and Boston.
With Buss’s Lakers battling the Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson, the NBA, which many feared would cease to exist in the late 1970s, thrived in the 1980s. Buss’s Lakers and the Celtics laid the foundation for the NBA’s golden age, when Michael Jordan became an iconic figure – and brand – across the globe and the NBA reached stratospheric levels of popularity.
The late Chick Hearn, arguably the greatest NBA play-by-play announcer who coined nearly every basketball term used today like “slam dunk,” “brick,” and “travelling,” was the voice of the Lakers soundtrack, putting many games in his patented “refrigerator,” which signified the Lakers had won the game. Lawrence Tanter, the public address announcer at the Forum and Staples Center, with his unmistakably booming voice, also was a part of the Lakers soundtrack.
Buss turned 80 last month and has not attended a game this season.