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Mentz’s Minute: Jerry Buss: A Los Angeles (and NBA) icon to be missed

February 21st, 2013

The year was 1979, and a 46-year-old, successful real estate investor from Wyoming had seemingly struck the jackpot when a $1,000 investment on a Los Angeles apartment complex eventually paid dividends that are difficult to even fathom.

That successful real estate agent was Jerry Buss, the man who eventually spent his jackpot earnings to purchase the Los Angeles Lakers (and Kings) as well as The Forum (the Lakers’ home arena) from Jack Kent Cooke for a grand total of $67.5 million.

Thirty-four years and 10 NBA world championships later, it’s safe to say that Buss is one of the most accomplished, well-respected owners in the history of professional sports.

Buss took control of the Lakers in 1979, and, just as he had done with his L.A. apartment investment, hit the jackpot again, as he selected Earvin “Magic” Johnson with the first pick of the 1979 NBA draft.

By drafting Johnson, Buss laid the foundation for “Showtime,” the golden era of Lakers basketball in the 1980s. A man with a blue-collar background, Buss understood what it was like to be at the bottom of the totem pole and was now experiencing life at the top in the most extravagant of all manners.

With Buss having passed away this past Monday, Feb. 18 at the age of 80, stories of his success and generosity have spread like a California wildfire.

For starters, here’s one story of Buss’ generosity: In 2005, Lakers center Ronny Turiaf needed open-heart surgery, and Buss paid for the entire operation. That’s the type of relationship he had with his players. “He saved my life,” Turiaf said recently.

Not only was Buss a generous man, but a patient one as well. When he bought the Lakers in 1979, he had one goal, which he explained in a 2010 interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com. “My dream really was to have the Lakers and Los Angeles identified as one and the same,” said Buss. “When you think New York, you think Yankees. I wanted that to be the case here as well … I believe I’ve accomplished that.”

Buss revolutionized not only the Lakers, but the sport of basketball, as he had the idea of selling courtside seats for top-dollar, recognizing how celebrities like to be seen and show off. Buss also came up with the idea of having “Lakers Girls,” adding to the ultimate “Showtime”  dream that he envisioned.

And while the stories of Buss’ success and compassion will live on forever, so will his legacy as one of the most influential, iconic men in the history of professional sports.

Rest in peace, Dr. Buss.

Follow @ZachMentz on Twitter or email him at zmentz14@jcu.edu