LOS ANGELES - Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers' playboy owner who shepherded the NBA team to 10 championships from the Showtime dynasty of the 1980s to the Kobe Bryant era, died Monday. He was 80.
He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Bob Steiner, his assistant.
Buss had been hospitalized for most of the past 18 months while undergoing cancer treatment, but the immediate cause of death was kidney failure, Steiner said. With his condition apparently worsening in recent weeks, several prominent former Lakers visited Buss to say goodbye.
"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend."
Under Buss' leadership since 1979, the Lakers became Southern California's most beloved sports franchise and a worldwide extension of Hollywood glamour. Buss acquired, nurtured and befriended a staggering array of talented players and basketball minds during his Hall of Fame tenure, from Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard.
"Condolences to the Buss family," tweeted James Worthy, the Lakers' Hall of Fame forward. "Dr Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly."
Few owners in sports history can approach Buss' accomplishments with the Lakers, who made the NBA finals 16 times through 2011 during his nearly 34 years in charge, winning 10 titles between 1980 and 2010. The Lakers easily are the NBA's winningest franchise since he bought the club, which is now run largely by Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss, two of his six children.
"We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community," the Buss family said in a statement issued by the Lakers.
"It was our father's often-stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well, and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy."
Buss always referred to the Lakers as his extended family, and his players rewarded his fanlike excitement with devotion, friendship and two hands full of championship rings. Working with front-office executives Jerry West, Bill Sharman and Mitch Kupchak, Buss spent lavishly to win his titles despite lacking a huge personal fortune, often running the NBA's highest payroll while also paying high-profile coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
Always an innovative businessman, Buss paid for the Lakers through both their wild success and his own groundbreaking moves to raise revenue. He co-founded a basic-cable sports television network and sold the naming rights to the Forum at times when both now-standard strategies were unusual, further justifying his induction to the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
"Dr. Jerry Buss was a cornerstone of the Los Angeles sports community and his name will always be synonymous with his beloved Lakers," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "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 L.A."
Johnson and fellow Hall of Famers Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy formed lifelong bonds with Buss during the Lakers' run to five titles in nine years in the 1980s, when the Lakers earned a reputation as basketball's most exciting team with their flamboyant Showtime style. The buzz extended throughout the Forum, where Buss used the Laker Girls, a brass band and promotions to keep Los Angeles fans interested in all four quarters of their games.
Jackson then led O'Neal and Bryant to a three-peat from 2000-02, rekindling the Lakers' mystique, before Bryant and Pau Gasol won two more titles under Jackson in 2009 and 2010.
Although Buss gained fame and fortune with the Lakers, he also was a scholar, Renaissance man and bon vivant who epitomized California cool -- and a certain Los Angeles lifestyle -- for his entire public life.
Buss rarely appeared in public without at least one attractive, much younger woman on his arm at USC football games, boxing matches at the Forum, poker tournaments -- and, of course, Lakers games from his private box at Staples Center, which was built under his watch. In failing health recently, Buss hadn't attended a Lakers game this season.
Buss earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at age 24 and had careers in aerospace and real estate development before getting into sports. With money from his real-estate ventures and a good bit of creative accounting, Buss bought the then-struggling Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and both clubs' arena -- the Forum -- from Jack Kent Cooke in a $67.5 million deal that was the largest sports transaction in history at the time.
Last month, Forbes