The death of Lakers owner Jerry Buss on Monday sparked an outpouring of support and respect for the man credited with the invention of Showtime and who figured out a way to make more money from high-value seats. Buss, 80, died of complications from cancer.
Buss won 10 NBA championships after purchasing the team in 1979. In his first season as owner, after drafting Magic Johnson, the Lakers won the NBA title. It was a sign of things to come.
Among those helping Buss along the way was the legendary Jerry West. Buss was known for letting his basketball people run the show, which in the case of West was the way to go. West was general manager for five NBA championships in the 1980s and was instrumental in setting the table for the three consecutive titles from 2000-2002.
“This is an extremely sad day for me,” West said in a statement, “As I have said many times, I have been blessed to work for Jerry Buss, the most successful owner in basketball history. His incredible commitment and desire to build a championship-caliber team that could sustain success over a long period of time has been unmatched.
“With all of his achievements, Jerry was without a doubt one of the most humble men I’ve ever been around. His vision was second to none; he wanted an NBA franchise that represented the very best and went to every extreme to accomplish his goals. His achievements as an owner are legendary and will never be duplicated: 10 NBA titles and 16 trips to the NBA Finals.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on the five championship teams in the ’80s.
Abdul-Jabbar, who had a 16-foot statue unveiled of him in front of Staples Center in November, recalled what Buss stood for.
“When someone as celebrated and charismatic as Jerry Buss dies, we are reminded of two things,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement. “First, just how much one person with vision and strength of will can accomplish. Second, how fragile each of us is, regardless of how powerful we are.
“Those two things combine to inspire us to reach for the stars but also to remain with our feet firmly on the ground among our loved ones. Dr. Buss embodied that compassionate entrepreneurial spirit.”
Byron Scott won three championships with the Lakers during the ’80s. Now the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Scott grew up in Inglewood and attended Morningside High and remembers the Showtime days from the inception.
“Dr. Buss was an innovator,” Scott said in a phone interview. “He had the Laker Girls. It was just some of the things he introduced to the NBA. With Showtime, all of a sudden we had actors and actresses come to see us because of the way we played, the style we played. Dr. Buss had everything to do with all of that. It’s a sad day.”
And with the celebrities came courtside seats and a demand for special seating for the suddenly upscale crowd that just wanted to be seen. Buss was glad to oblige at a price.
James Worthy, who also won three titles with the Lakers in the ’80s, had this to say: “Condolences to the Buss family. Dr. Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend and just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern issued a statement on Buss’ death.
“The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come.”
Clippers owner Donald Sterling joined in the almost universal praise for Buss.
“Jerry Buss was a visionary and a dear friend. Our city will miss him, our league will miss him and the Sterling family will truly miss him.”
Former Laker Derek Fisher was a member of the last five NBA championships won under Buss.
“Today the world lost a visionary and one of the most successful sports figures of all time,” Fisher said in a statement. “But today I lost a friend and mentor. He forever changed by life. May he rest in peace and my prayers are with his family that he loved so much.”
Shaquille O’Neal expressed his thoughts through Twitter: “I’m deeply saddened over da loss of the great Dr. Jerry Buss. He was a dear friend, mentor, and brilliant business mind thank u 4 8 gr…yrs.”
Lakers center Dwight Howard never really got to know Buss well, but he expressed his sentiments, also on Twitter: “I want to share my condolences with the Buss Family as well as my teammates and the Laker family. I had the privilege to meet Dr. Buss when I joined the team. He was an extraordinary man who has left an impact on the sports world. His legacy will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Dr. Buss.”
Among some of the other reactions:
Magic Johnson: “My thoughts and prayers are with the family & friends of Dr. Jerry Buss. He was a great man and an incredible friend.”
Lakers forward Pau Gasol: “Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball. All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss.”
“Our relationship has always been very unique; Jerry was always supportive of the many tough decisions that were made during our time together,” said West. “I will particularly remember fondly our walks together during training camps, which were some of the highlights of my time working with him and the Lakers. I was blessed to have the opportunity to work for him and I will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Buss family and the Lakers organization. We lost a great man today and a legend in our business.”
Former Laker Dennis Rodman: “My thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family. Dr. Jerry Buss was like a Dad to me and is a tremendous loss to Lakers fam.”
Former Lakers announcer Spero Dedes: “Rest in peace, Dr. Buss. I will forever cherish the brief visits and your words of encouragement.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Flea: “wow. thank you dr. jerry buss for all you have done to uplift los angeles, and give me untold joy. rest in peace.”
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, via Twitter: “RIP Jerry Buss. Your encouragement and support along with your stories of staying true to yourself had an enormous impact on me.”
Clippers: “Jerry Buss was a visionary, a winner and a dear friend. Our city will miss him, our league will miss him and the Sterling family will truly miss him.”
Dodgers: “The Dodgers extend our deepest sympathies to the Buss family and the Lakers on the passing of one of the greatest owners in NBA history.”
Angels: “A sad day for Southern California sports. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Buss family and the Lakers organization.”
Sparks: “Condolences to the Buss family. RIP to the beloved Dr. Buss. Thank you for your impact in the basketball world & the community.”
Phoenix Suns: “On behalf of the entire Phoenix Suns organization, our thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family,” said Phoenix Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver. “As an NBA owner, Dr. Buss was in a league of his own. I loved listening to his stories and appreciated his willingness to always engage in discussion and offer me positive encouragement and advice. He will be greatly missed.”
Golden State Warriors: “On behalf of the Golden State Warriors organization, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the entire Buss family,” said Golden State Warriors Co-Executive chairmen Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. “Dr. Buss set an incredible standard of excellence that each of us strives to achieve, but few attain. His overall contribution to the league over three-plus decades leaves an indelible mark that will never be forgotten.”
Major League Baseball: “We join the Dodgers in mourning the passing of legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss.”
From L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “Dr. Jerry Buss was a cornerstone of the Los Angeles sports community and his name will always be synonymous with his beloved Lakers. It was through his stewardship that the Lakers brought “Showtime” basketball and numerous championship rings to this great city.
“Today we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a man who helped shape the modern landscape of sports in LA, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG: “Dr. Buss was our partner, our mentor and our friend. He was kind enough to allow us into his world and much of the success we enjoyed at Staples Center and L.A. Live is directly attributed to him. I do not believe we will ever find anyone quite like him. Our prayers and thoughts are with [daughter] Jeanie and the entire Buss family.”
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant: “RIP to the legend Jerry Buss.”
Minnesota forward and former UCLA star Kevin Love: “Huge loss for the NBA and the basketball world. RIP Jerry Buss.”
Philadelphia 76ers Chief Executive Adam Aron: “On behalf of the entire 76ers organization, we send sincere condolences to the Buss family and all at the Lakers. A great man has left us.”
Comedian Chris Rock: “Jerry Buss was so cool he should be in the rock and roll hall of fame. He will be missed.”
Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5: “Thank you Dr. Buss for putting together some of the most soulful and exciting basketball the world will ever see. We’re gonna miss you.”
Actor Jonah Hill: “More than just an owner. Sad say because we lost you, Dr. Buss. RIP.”