Lakers owner Jerry Buss hospitalized with undisclosed illness [updated]

Lakers owner Jerry Buss has been hospitalized because of an undisclosed form of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to multiple team personnel.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Lakers owner Jerry Buss has been hospitalized because of an undisclosed form of cancer, spending time in the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to multiple team personnel.

A Lakers spokesman declined to comment on his condition.

Several current and former Lakers players have visited Buss, including Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Buss, 79, has been in the hospital numerous times over the last two years. He underwent an undisclosed surgery last August and was admitted a month earlier for what the team said was dehydration. He was also hospitalized in December 2011 for blood clots in his leg caused by excessive travel, according to the Lakers.


A report Thursday from said that players were visiting Buss because of “what they expect to be his final days.”

[Update, 5:50 p.m.: Buss’ son Jim, the team’s executive vice president of player personnel, was at Cedars-Sinai and said his father was “doing fine.”

“We just aren’t going to make any comments on it,” Jim Buss said outside of the intensive care unit, adding that the family has “been dealing with this.”]

Before his most recent medical issues, Buss continued to take part in decision-making processes for the Lakers.

He weighed in heavily on the hiring of Coach Mike D’Antoni in November and, a few months before that, was eager to meet Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, two high-profile Lakers additions who visited him separately after being acquired.

Buss received a doctorate in physical chemistry from USC but it was a $1,000 investment in a Los Angeles apartment building that ultimately sparked a career in real-estate investment.


In 1979, Buss bought the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke, along with the Forum, the NHL’s Kings (which he later sold), and a ranch in the Sierra Nevada for a total of $67.5 million.

The Lakers franchise, buoyed by a lucrative TV deal with Time Warner Cable, was recently valued at $1 billion by Forbes magazine. Only one other NBA franchise, the New York Knicks, was deemed more valuable.

The Lakers have won 10 NBA championships since Buss purchased the team and 16 overall, one behind the Boston Celtics.

They are continually among the top-spending teams in player salary, and this season is no different. They have a $100-million payroll, the highest in the NBA, and face luxury-tax penalties of another $30 million in an overwhelmingly disappointing season so far.

There would be another steep financial investment if Howard decided to re-sign with the Lakers after this season. Howard is in the last year of his contract and could sign a five-year, $118-million deal in July to stay with the team.

“When it comes down to it, Dr. Buss is a competitor,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said when Howard was acquired in a four-team trade last August. “And when it comes down to a decision about making a couple of dollars or a million dollars or $10 million or putting another banner up, he can’t help himself. He chooses to go for the banner.”


Buss used to be a fixture at Lakers games in his Staples Center luxury suite halfway up the arena behind the team bench, but he had not attended any games this season.

He maintained an extremely low public profile last year, emerging briefly to release a statement through the team when Derek Fisher was traded in a rare cost-cutting move last March.

“Few who have worn the Lakers uniform have done so with as much class as Derek, both on the court and in the community ... from his famous 0.4 shot in San Antonio to his clutch performances in the Finals against Orlando and Boston when it mattered most,” Buss said in the statement.

Buss has gradually handed more power to his son, Jim, who oversees basketball operations, and daughter, Jeanie, who is in charge of the business side of the team.

Staff writer Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report.



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