RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Jerry Buss died yesterday at the age of 80, a very important guy to sports fans here in Southern California. He transformed the Los Angeles Lakers from a good pro basketball team into a great one. During the 34 years Jerry Buss owned them, the Lakers won more games than any other NBA team and took 10 league titles. He also changed the Lakers into the NBA's glamour team, bringing modern showmanship to the league.
NPR's Ted Robbins has this remembrance.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Jerry Buss once described himself as a high school basketball player, overly competitive but not very gifted. Turned out that combination made for one heck of an NBA owner. He created two Laker dynasties. First, in 1979, when he bought the team which had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at its core, hired coach Pat Riley, and drafted a young charismatic player, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Johnson spoke with ESPN.
EARVIN MAGIC JOHNSON: He gave us everything we needed to win a championship. We stayed at the best hotels. You know, we had the best trainers. We had, you know, the best equipment, on and on and on. And so, it started with him.
ROBBINS: Over the next decade, the Lakers won five championships. When he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Jerry Buss described himself as a fortunate fan.
JERRY BUSS: There were times when I'd sit in the locker room and I would be surrounded by five Hall of Famers. As a fan, you can't imagine how wonderful that feels.
ROBBINS: But then, all of it apparently felt good to Jerry Buss. He loved to be surrounded by beautiful women. It was Buss who formed the Laker Girls to perform during time outs. He loved poker, playing in high-stakes tournaments. He attracted Hollywood celebrities, Jack Nicholson being most regular big name at Laker courtside. He also nurtured "Magic" Johnson who told ESPN that Buss was a second father and a business mentor.
JOHNSON: We played pool - that was our favorite thing to do. He loved to play pool and he loved to play cards. So we did both of those things all the time. He took me to Las Vegas. I mean, we hung out.
ROBBINS: Jerry Buss grew up poor in Wyoming. He moved to Los Angeles, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at USC and made a small fortune in L.A. real estate. Then, he bought the Lakers, the Kings Hockey Team and the Forum Arena. Buss was one of the first owners to sell naming rights to an arena. He and Lakers general manager Jerry West were also one of the first to draft a player straight out of high school, Kobe Bryant. They traded for Shaquille O'Neal who was a Laker from 1996 till 2004. And Buss brought in legendary coach Phil Jackson. That second Laker dynasty brought five more championships.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Lakers repeat, back to back titles. The L.A. Lakers, the 2010 NBA champions.
ROBBINS: The Lakers' Kobe Bryant.
KOBE BRYANT: None of this would've been possible. None of this is possible without the greatest owner in the history of team sports.
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ROBBINS: Jerry Buss credited his players and coaches.
BUSS: These men put their hands together, their souls together and brought me with them. And I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.
ROBBINS: For the last year and a half, Buss was in and out of the hospital for cancer treatment. One of his six children, daughter Jeanie Buss, has been handling the business while a son, Jim, runs the team.
Ted Robbins, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.