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Longtime Lakers Owner Jerry Buss Dies At 80


The basketball world lost both a huge fan and one of its most innovative team owners today. Jerry Buss turned the Los Angeles Lakers into the NBA's glamour franchise and won 10 championships. Buss died early this morning at the age of 80. NPR's Ted Robbins has this remembrance.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Jerry Buss once said: I don't just want winners, I want champions. And, boy, did he get them. Yet when Buss was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he remembered feeling humbled back in 1979 when he bought the Lakers.

JERRY BUSS: I couldn't believe I was suddenly in charge of a legendary franchise and that my thoughts would influence the future of this team for so many years.

ROBBINS: Jerry Buss had gone from a Depression-era kid in Wyoming, to earning a PhD in chemistry, to success in LA real estate, a die-hard basketball fan the whole time. And being in LA, he knew the value of entertainment. When he saw a young, charismatic player named Magic Johnson, the Lakers drafted him. Jerry Buss paid him $25 million over 25 years, then a fortune in sports. Johnson and Buss became lifelong friends. The Lakers had Kareem Abdul Jabbar, then added Coach Pat Riley. The Showtime Lakers of the '80s were born. Kurt Rambis played on that team. He spoke with ESPN about Jerry Buss.

KURT RAMBIS: He was the one that branded the team, marketed the team and got the team elevated to worldwide status.

ROBBINS: Hollywood stars like Jack Nicholson were regulars at courtside. And in one decade, the Lakers won five titles and went to the NBA Finals eight times. The Lakers weren't bad in the '90s, but when team management spotted a 17-year-old phenom, Jerry Buss signed Kobe Bryant, then Shaquille O'Neal and legendary coach Phil Jackson. It was a whole new dynasty.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Lakers repeat back-to-back titles. The LA Lakers, the 2010 NBA champions.

ROBBINS: From 2000 through 2010, the Lakers won five more championships. Jerry Buss was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. He'd spent the money to win championships, he'd marketed the Lakers better than anyone dreamed possible, yet he gave credit to the men he'd hired to play and coach.

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: Jerry Buss also owned the LA Kings hockey team and the WNBA LA Sparks. Buss was hospitalized much of the last 18 months for cancer treatment. His six children inherit his business. The Lakers are being run by one of his sons and one daughter. His death, at 80, was announced this morning by the Lakers, who Jerry Buss called his extended family. Ted Robbins, NPR News.


BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.
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