LOS ANGELES With the death of Los Angeles Lakers' owner Jerry Buss at 80 on Monday morning, a prodigious era in professional sports ended.
Under the leadership of Buss who passed away after an 18-month battle with cancer the Lakers went to the NBA Finals 16 times in 31 seasons (1979-80 to 2009-2010), winning 10 championships. It was an unprecedented period of ownership success in American pro sports history.
However, Buss' larger-than-life persona came about as much from his lifestyle as it did his success as a sportsman.
He owned the most glamorous franchise sports has ever seen, and Buss enjoyed the perks that went along with running a great team playing in the entertainment capital of the world.
On any given night when the Lakers weren't playing, you might find Buss with a beautiful and undoubtedly much, much younger female companion at a restaurant or club somewhere in the Los Angeles area. Or he might be out with his group of close friends nicknamed "The Seven Dwarfs" by another Buss friend, L.A. Herald Examiner sports writer Doug Krikorian.
Even though Buss loved being out, he never tried to be the center of attention. That was left for others, according to Krikorian.
"Wherever we'd be, Jerry was always very low-key," said Krikorian, who often sat in Buss' box during games at the Forum, surrounded by the likes of Sean Connery, Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone and many other celebs. "Most of the time, he'd just sit back and enjoy the people and the atmosphere.
"Interesting thing, though, is that no matter if we were at a disco or a restaurant or a club, there was always a time when he seemed to have his mind on other things. Business things. He wasn't rude or anything like that, but you could tell that he was focused on something other than partying.
"He was like a lot of successful businessmen I knew who spent a lot of their time occupied by business."
Krikorian also talked about Buss' penchant for dating younger women, and the criticisms that went along with it.
"Yeah," Krikorian said with a laugh, "Jerry always had a beautiful woman with him. I thought it was great. It never bothered me. But you'd hear the remarks from some people criticizing him for going out with women younger than his daughters, and it was ridiculous. They were upset about it, I think, just because they were jealous.
"What people should understand is that he never let his lifestyle get in the way of business. He was a brilliant guy and he was very shrewd in business.
"He was smart enough to know that he didn't understand basketball like Jerry West did, so he let West run the basketball operations and basically stayed out of the way. Unlike some of the egomaniacs that own teams and think they know it all, Buss trusted his people to make the right decision. And it led to the greatest period in L.A. sports history."
Bottom line is that no matter his lifestyle or notoriety, Buss was just a down-to-earth good guy who was loyal to his friends, said Krikorian.
"When the Herald Examiner went out of business in November of 1989," Krikorian recalled, "I got a call from Buss' aide-de-camp Bob Steiner, saying that Jerry was concerned and that if I needed a job, he'd give me one.
"That's the Jerry Buss I knew."
The Jerry Buss I knew was a bit different from the man who often partied with Krikorian and his buddies. But it always was a special time when he was around.
On the rare occasions he wasn't with a date or the Dwarfs, he'd hang out with reporters in the Forum press lounge after games. When we were done filing our stories, the drinks and tales would start flowing, and those nights would end early the next morning after hours of very competitive trivia contests. Trust me, there aren't many if any team owners who would do that. Let alone do it a few times every season.
Jerry Buss is gone, but for any Laker fan who has lived in Los Angeles over the past 33 years, he will never be forgotten. He crushed the odds and brought championships and joy to one of the most demanding fan bases in the United States. He was a very unique man who lived a life most can only dream about. And whose lasting impact can be summed up in one word: winner.