Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame today, receiving the sport's greatest honor for helping transform the franchise into the most successful and glamorous team in North American professional sports.
"This is an overwhelming honor and one that I never anticipated when I began my ownership of the Lakers 31 years ago," Buss said in April when his election to the Hall of Fame was announced. "I truly thank everyone involved for according me the privilege of being a member of such a prestigious body as the Basketball Hall of Fame."
When Buss purchased the Lakers in 1979, they had won one championship in the previous 25 seasons, and had lost nine times in the NBA finals during that span, including four seven-game series.
Buss combined show business glamour and sex appeal with shrewd personnel moves – both on and off the court – to make the Lakers become what NBA Commissioner David Stern once said was "the standard by which all L.A. sports franchises and most American franchises get measured."
In Buss' first season as owner, the Lakers won the NBA championship, then added four more titles in the following eight seasons, as the Magic Johnson-led fast-breaking "Showtime" offense enthralled both the general public and celebrities like Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson, who became regulars in the courtside seats.
Under Buss, the Lakers became the first basketball team to have a dance squad, the Laker Girls, who also developed a devoted following and inspired creation of similar squads by every other team in the league.
The Lakers won three more NBA championships from 2000-2002 with teams led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bryant-led teams won titles in 2009 and 2010.
The Lakers' 10 championships under Buss' ownership are the most by a team in any of the four major North American professional leagues since he purchased the team. Buss' 10 championships as an owner are the most in NBA history.
Born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City and raised in the tiny mining and sheep ranching community of Kemmerer, Wyo., Buss came to Southern California to attend graduate school at USC, where he would receive a doctorate in physical chemistry.
Buss taught at USC and worked in the aerospace industry, then joined aerospace engineer Frank Mariani in forming Mariani-Buss Associates, a real estate firm, whose initial goal was to provide Buss with income to pursue his love of teaching.
Instead, Buss parlayed an original $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into assets that would enable him to enter professional sports ownership, purchasing full control of the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis in 1974.
Buss purchased the Lakers, the Forum, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a 13,000-acre Kern County ranch in 1979 for $67.5 million, then the largest transaction in sports history.
Buss later sold all but the Lakers, who were valued at $607 million in a study released by Forbes in December, the most for any NBA team.
Buss is the third person connected with the Lakers to be elected to the Hall of Fame as a contributor, following their late longtime announcer Chick Hearn and Pete Newell, their general manager from 1972-76.
The enshrinement ceremony will be held at the Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., the site of the Hall of Fame.
Two players who played high school and college basketball in Southern California were also among the eight individuals and two teams selected in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 – the late Dennis Johnson, who played guard for Dominguez High School in Compton, Harbor College and Pepperdine before a 14- season NBA career, and Cynthia Cooper, a Locke High and USC alumna.
Johnson was named to nine consecutive NBA All-Defensive teams, helping the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1979 championship and the Boston Celtics to titles in 1984 and 1986. He died Feb. 22, 2007 at the age of 52.
Cooper helped lead USC to the 1983 and 1984 NCAA women's championships and the Houston Comets to the Women's National Basketball Association's first four championships.
The two teams selected also have ties to the Lakers – the 1960 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, which included Jerry West, and the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team," which included Johnson.
The rest of the Hall of Fame class consists of Karl Malone, who played for the Lakers during the final season of his 19-season NBA career, Scottie Pippen, Gus Johnson and Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira, selected as players and legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley, Sr.
All those selected needed "Yes" votes from at least 18 of the 24 members of the Honors Committee to be elected.