Jerry Buss, 1933–2013
When it came to his Los Angeles Lakers, no sum was too lavish for owner Jerry Buss. In 2002, when the franchise was sewing up its third consecutive championship, observers figured the dynasty would falter once Buss trimmed the team’s star roster to avoid paying the league’s tax on excessive payroll. They needn’t have worried. After the Lakers sealed that victory, an exuberant Buss said, “We’re going way over the tax! I love winning!”
That will to win was always there “for a man who dug his way out of a hardscrabble youth,” said the Los Angeles Times. Born in Salt Lake City, Buss grew up in rural Wyoming, where his divorced mother eked out an existence on waitressing tips and handouts. He won a scholarship to the University of Wyoming before moving to Los Angeles, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Southern California. After a brief stint in the aerospace industry, he started buying real estate and became wealthy enough to buy the Lakers and its then-famous venue, the Forum, in 1979.
“They won right away and kept on winning,” said ESPN.com. Buss’s original team had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rookie Magic Johnson, but he added more stars. “The Lakers went to the NBA Finals 16 times in Buss’s 33 years as owner—about once every two years on average. For Buss, ‘wait till next year’ wasn’t a lament, it was a promise.” After his first power roster faded, he built another one around Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 1996, then another around Bryant and Pau Gasol in 2008. “He means everything to me,” said Bryant. “He believed in me the entire way.”