Dr. Gerald Hatten “Jerry” Buss passed away at 5:55 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2013. He was 80-years-old, and the cause of death was listed as a failed liver, but he had been suffering from cancer for some time.
Since buying the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979, Buss’s team only missed the playoffs twice in over three decades. His commitment to winning was such that his Lakers reached the NBA Finals 16 times in his 33 years in charge, and he brought 10 championships to Los Angeles over that span.
Beyond simply acquiring and keeping the best players, coaches, and team personnel, Buss was a visionary in how he presented the game for fans. The concept of the Laker Girls has been imitated across the NBA, but it cannot be duplicated because it was the good Doctor Buss who invented the idea of having a show during the commercial breaks and halftime.
“He was a really cool guy,” Bob Steiner, Buss family spokesman, told the media during a question and answer session on Monday afternoon. Buss’ coolness translated to the marriage of Hollywood celebrities and the Lakers.
At every Lakers game, celebrities pepper the crowd. For rising and established stars alike, Laker games were the cool place to be seen, and it was Dr. Buss that made that happen.
When it came to branding his franchise, Buss minted the Lakers brand to such a level that “those vibrations were felt to a kid all the way in Italy at six years old before basketball was even global,” Kobe Bryant described himself as a six-year-old Laker fan. “His impact is felt worldwide.”
On Twitter, his impact was literally felt worldwide, as he was trending in Los Angeles, the United States, and worldwide for much of Monday. Former players, other owners, Laker-fans, and just everyday people all expressed their respect for the late Dr. Buss throughout the day via social media, radio, television, at the water cooler, and on the blacktops across the city.
Ultimately, the legacy of Jerry Buss was that of a self-made man who lived the ultimate fan’s dream, and he did it better than anyone before him.
When the Lakers finally beat the Boston Celtics in the 1985 NBA Finals, Buss put up billboards around LA that said “Lakers have never beaten Celtics.” He crossed out the word “never” and wrote "Thanks guys" with his signature underneath.
That was the type of owner he was. He celebrated every victory like a fan, but he made a point to thank the people that made him great every step of the way.
When Buss was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, his message, demeanor, and genuine gratitude toward all those that helped him reach the top displayed the greatness of the Lakers owner.
For the billionaire 10-time NBA Championship owner of the Lakers to describe his entire ride through life by speaking about the players, coaches, and general managers instead of himself described what exactly made Buss great.
As much as Dr. Buss understood where everyone around him fit in the recipe for rings, he understood that his greatness was tied to every man he encountered along the way (Watch Jerry Buss's Hall of Fame Speech).
LA already misses you.