Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Jerry Buss didn't want basketball players. He wanted stars. And stars he got, on and off the court.
Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers owner who made Hollywood's home team arguably the most successful show in town, died Monday in Los Angeles according to the New York Times. He was 80.
Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington and no small number of Kardashians were among the famous faces on the sidelines who regularly cheered on Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and more famous faces under the lights.
Buss himself was a star in the Hugh Hefner mold. If there was one thing he was blessed with more than championship banners—his basketball team won 10 NBA championships during his run—it was the company of young women.
Born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City, Buss earned a Ph.d. in chemistry—hence the "Dr." in "Dr. Buss," as he was often called—and worked in the defense industry after originally considering a slightly different career path.
"I would have become a pool hustler and probably a pimp," Buss told People in 1980. "That's how I visualized myself at 17—smooth clothes and hair."
Buss did end up his own boss, but in real estate. He started off with a single apartment building. By the 1970s, his holdings were worth in the hundreds of millions, and Buss was diversifying.
His first major sports venture was the Los Angeles Strings, a team tennis outfit. As he would run the Lakers, he ran the Strings.
"You don't have a great team without a superstar," Buss said in 1976. "So...I'm dedicated to getting one because I'm tired of losing."
Buss' formula worked. With legend Chris Evert on his payroll, the Strings won the World Team Tennis championship in 1978.
The Strings folded later that same year, and Buss turned his eye to other games. Originally rumored to be a buyer for the Indiana Pacers, Buss in 1979 scored the Lakers and hockey's Los Angeles Kings, plus the L.A. Forum, the arena where both teams then played, for $67.5 million, the biggest-ever sports deal for the time.
In 2012, the Lakers alone were estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion. (Buss sold the Kings in 1988.)
About two weeks before Buss closed the Lakers purchase, the team declared its intention to make college-star Johnson its No. 1 draft pick. Together, Buss and Johnson ushered in the "Showtime" era, winning five NBA titles in style. The Byrant era, in conjunction with O'Neal and later other players, brought another five rings.
In recent months, Buss' health faltered, leading to hospitalizations for blood clots and dehydration. Last week, it was learned Buss was near death from cancer.
As his health waned, Buss, who once held court at Hollywood's famed Pickfair mansion, retreated from the spotlight, delegating responsibility for the Lakers to two of his children, Jim and Jeannie.
Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Buss reminisced at the podium about his earliest days as Lakers owner. "It felt like I was walking on a golden path," he said.