Sporting Heroes: Buss journey from nobody to LA legend


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The Independent Online

It is a rare feat to embark upon life in utter poverty and fight your way to immense riches and power.

Last year saw the passing of a basketball legend who did just that, when Jerry Buss, proprietor of the Los Angeles Lakers, died from kidney failure after battling cancer. He was 80 years old and a very wealthy man.

Buss had been born into a broken family and raised by his mother during the Great Depression. He earned a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, then moved on to the University of Southern California (USC) in LA, where he achieved his MS and PhD in physical chemistry. Buss would work in aerospace and became a part of USC’s faculty, but began investing in property to allow him the security to continue teaching.

By the age of 34, Buss had earned his first million dollars after focusing on property full time and 12 years later he and his partner ran an empire worth more than $350m. Buss then engineered a complex transaction, exchanging money and property for the Lakers, Kings (National Hockey League), the Forum arena and a ranch. Legend has it that the night the deal was done Buss took a seat in the empty Forum and lit a cigarette while reflecting on how far he had come.

Buss (below) brought 10 NBA titles to the Lakers. He brought in players such as Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, along with coaches such as Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Though he no longer owned the Kings when they traded for Wayne Gretzky in 1988, it was he who had suggested the idea.

Buss was a sporting visionary and responsible for so much of the success the world’s most loved basketball franchise has achieved. The Lakers are now run by his daughter, Jeanie, and son, Jim.