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Buss Jockeying to Buy Another Team

Times Staff Writer

Laker owner Jerry Buss said Monday he intends to buy another professional baseball or football franchise “within 24 months,” but has no plans to sell either the Lakers or the Forum to outside interests.

According to sources, Buss’ subordinates already have inquired about the availability of the Los Angeles Rams, owned by Georgia Frontiere. Buss said he has had no contact with Frontiere, but indicated that he has placed himself in position to bid for an NFL or major-league team by selling hockey’s Los Angeles Kings; a major share of Prime Ticket, the regional cable TV network; and a considerable portion of his real-estate holdings.

“I have not met with Georgia,” said Buss, who is here with the Lakers during training camp. “I have not (spoken with her).

“I think she’s aware, should she decide to sell, that I’d be a candidate to purchase (the Rams).

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“I respect her ownership, and as such I would not disturb it until she lets me know the team is for sale. As far as I know, her position is she doesn’t want to sell. Everything else is speculation.”

According to sources, Buss has received information suggesting Frontiere would be willing to sell the team. “But we’re not talking a matter of months, we’re talking a couple of years,” the source said. “And Buss may not be willing to wait.” The same source said that Marvin Davis, the oilman and former movie mogul, approached Frontiere about selling the team, but she turned him down.

“I don’t have any comment,” said Ram general council Jay Zygmont. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Frontiere was in London and unavailable for comment. John Shaw, the Rams’ vice president/finance did not return phone calls.

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Buss said that he has no intention of selling the Lakers or the Forum “to an outside party,” even if he succeeded in buying another professional franchise. He said that he would investigate the possibility of transferring ownership of the team to his children. He said one possible scenario would be to place the team in a trust, with Jerry West, at present the team’s general manager, becoming a managing general partner in charge of its operation.

Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, heads the tennis and volleyball operations; another daughter, Janie, works with California Sports, Inc., management; while a son, Jim, runs the indoor soccer Lazers.

“Whether my children inherit it or if I make it a gift to them, it’s not a big difference, from a tax point of view,” Buss said.

“I’ve always said from Day 1 that I’d love to have a football or baseball team before I retire. If I’m going to have one for 10 years, I’d better do it now, because I’m 55 now and in 10 years, I’ll retire.

“It’s time to make that move. . . . I’ve been getting a war chest ready for that move. I have one more move to make before I’m officially ready to do it.”

Last winter, Buss sold his 50% share of the Kings to minority owner Bruce McNall for $20 million. Before selling the team, he confirmed Monday, he came “within an inch” of making a deal last year with Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington in which the Kings would have received Wayne Gretzky, All-Star goalie Grant Fuhr, and All-Star center Mark Messier in exchange for $17 million. At the last minute, he said, the deal fell through. Last August, McNall acquired Gretzky and two other players for $15 million.

Buss also, effective July 1, went from being a 50% owner of Prime Ticket to a 17% shareholder, with Bill Daniels now owning 83%.

Also, Buss said that his real-estate holdings--which once numbered “about 1,200 pieces"--is down to about “300 or 400 pieces.”

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“In the last couple of years, I’ve probably sold about 6 or 8 apartment houses, about 400 single-family homes, and a commercial piece or two,” Buss said.

Buss would not say what transaction he intended to make in the next several months, other than to say it did not involve any of his sports holdings but would involve a considerable sum of money.

Buss said that when he returns to Los Angeles--the Lakers break camp here Saturday--he intends to call Joan Kroc, owner of the San Diego Padres of the National League.

“When I go home I’ll ask her if she’d like to sit down and talk,” Buss said.

A year ago last spring, Kroc had agreed to sell the team to George Argyros, the Orange County real estate developer and owner of the American League’s Seattle Mariners, but the other NL team owners did not give their approval and Kroc subsequently said the team was no longer for sale.

“I can tell you they are not for sale,” said Beth Benes, Kroc’s personal attorney. “I’m sure that’s what he will be told when he calls her.”

Benes said that she gets phone calls inquiring about the club’s availability all the time. “And not from reporters, but from people wanting to buy the club.”

Buss said he also would look into the sale of football’s Dallas Cowboys. “I’m going to look at it as a matter of curiosity,” he said.

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If Frontiere were to decide to sell the Rams, Buss said he expected the sale price to be somewhere in the $100 million range. “She probably won’t go below that figure, and no one is going to go above,” he said.

Buss would not directly estimate the value of the Lakers. “But according to those who have been asked to appraise the team,” he said, “they have placed the value of the team at somewhere between $125 million and $150 million,” he said.

In 1979, Buss purchased the Lakers, Kings, Forum and a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County for $67.5 million in what was at the time the biggest sports transaction in history.

“Within 24 months I will own a baseball or football franchise,” Buss said. “God willing, of course.”

Times staff writers Chris Dufresne and Bill Plaschke also contributed to this story.


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