|Wreath placed by the Hollywood Historic Trust on Hollywood Blvd in tribute to longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, in Hollywood, California, February 18, 2013. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn, Reuters.
LOS ANGELES - Former players and rivals recalled Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers owner who died Monday after a fight with cancer at age 80, as a visionary who helped mold the NBA and make the Lakers champions.
Buss won 10 NBA titles as owner of the Lakers, more than any other team owner in league history, after purchasing the Lakers, ice hockey's Los Angeles Kings, their arena and a ranch from Jack Kent Cooke for $67.5 million in 1979.
"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend."
Buss, who was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, was recalled fondly by fellow Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who said Buss was like a "second father" after making the Lakers' selection of Johnson in the 1979 NBA Draft a condition of the purchase deal.
"He was a fun loving guy but he was very competitive as well," Johnson said. "He wanted to win championships and he brought us in all together to do just that.
"He was the first owner who cared about entertainment -- let's focus on the timeouts, the Laker Girls (cheerleaders), all of these things that hadn't been done before.
"He changed the scope of entertainment in sports. He was at the forefront of all of that. He was a great man and an incredible friend."
Buss launched the "Showtime" era of the Lakers that saw Johnson win five titles and later become a part-owner of the team, which is now guided by son Jim Buss on basketball matters and daughter Jeanie Buss on the business side.
"We not only have lost our cherished father but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community," said a statement from the Buss family released by the club.
In 34 seasons owning the Lakers, they made 16 trips to the final, winning 10 times and dominating with such stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
"He has meant everything to me in my career. What he has done, it's hard to match in the world of sports," Bryant said of Buss, whom he once dubbed "the greatest owner in the history of team sports."
"I'm deeply saddened over da loss of the great Dr. Jerry Buss," O'Neal said in a Twitter posting. "He was a dear friend, mentor,and brilliant business mind thank u 4 8 gr8 yrs."
"Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball," Gasol said on Twitter. "All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss."
Johnson credited his post-NBA career as a businessman to Buss's teachings and said he and Buss cried together when Johnson revealed he was HIV positive.
"We cried for about two hours together," Johnson told ESPN. "He wanted to get me the best doctors possible. He wanted to get me anything he could to make it better... He was there with me every step of the way.
Former Lakers star James Worthy tweeted "Condolences to the Buss family. Dr Buss was not only the greatest sports owner, but a true friend & just a really cool guy. Loved him dearly."
Former Laker Dennis Rodman tweeted "My thoughts and prayers are with the Buss family. Dr. Jerry Buss was like a Dad to me and is a tremendous loss to Lakers family."
Rival owners acknowledged the impact Buss had upon them.
"RIP Jerry Buss. Your encouragement and support along with your stories of staying true to yourself had an enormous impact on me," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted.
Boston Celtics chief executive Wyc Grousbeck enjoyed the epic rivalry his team had with Buss and the Lakers.
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