Lakers, Buss spokesmen reflect on Dr. Buss’ past, express optimism for future

A swirl of emotions permeated the air as the Lakers initially reacted to the late owner Dr. Jerry Buss passing away Monday 5:55 a.m. because of an unspecified form of cancer that affected his kidneys.

There was grief over Buss dying after frequently being hospitalized for the past 18 months.

“It’s a very sad day for the organization,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “All of us as employees, Dr. Buss was our leader and our boss. We also know it’s a loss for everybody else and Southern California as well.”

There was resilience over Buss fighting through it and his extensive family handling it. That included sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel, all of Southern California; eight grandchildren; former wife JoAnn of Las Vegas; half sister Susan Hall of Phoenix; half brother Micky Brown of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and stepbrother Jim Brown of Star Valley, Wyo.

“The family is doing fine,” Buss family spokesman Bob Steiner said. “It’s a testament to his determination and will that he lasted this long. The family certainly knew for a while that his passing was imminent. He had a lot of time to get as used to it as you possibly can.”

There was plenty of fond memories to share.

Buss, 80, has owned the Lakers since 1979, when he purchased the team along with the Forum, the NHL’s Kings and a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County for $67.5 million from Jack Kent Cooke. Since then, Buss brought the organization “Showtime”, the Lakers girl and more importantly, championships. The Lakers won 10 of their 16 NBA titles under Buss’ watch. Recently, Forbes magazine calculated the Lakers to be worth $1 billion.

“I really feel anybody associated with the NBA sine 1980 and decades in the future and elite athletes worldwide benefitted greatly from Jerry Buss’ impact on professional basketball,” Steiner said. “I don’t know how you would measure that. But it’s huge. I believe it’s world wide.”

But there was also uncertainty.

Immediately, the Lakers don’t have any definitive plans on Buss’ funeral arrangements, though Steiner said it’s possible a ceremony could take place in the Nokia Theatre. They’re at least planning a tribute to the Buss when the Lakers play Wednesday at Staples Center against the Boston Celtics, their heated rival.

But there’s also questions on how Buss’ passing affect the Lakers’ ownership?

“The future of the organization will remain unchanged,” Black said.

That’s because Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, has been the team’s executive vice president of business operations for 14 seasons. Buss’ son, Jim, has spent eight of his 15 seasons as the team’s executive vice president of player personnel. As the elder Buss’ health declined in recent years, he ceded more and more control to his children.

Black maintained Jim Buss will be in charge of personnel decisions while Jeanie Buss will be in charge of business decisions and attend the Board of Governors meetings. Black also said the Lakers will be put in a trust run by Johnny, Jim and Jeanie. Black stressed the Buss family has no plans to sell the team.

“There was a succession plan that was clearly laid out That process has taken place in the last couple of years. His controlling ownership of the team is owned by a trust for the benefit of his six children,” Black said. “They unanimously agree that they have no interest in ever selling the team. The six of them agreed unanimously. They want to keep the team in their family for generations to come.”

Still, plenty has been made about the relationship between Jim and Jeanie.

Jeanie is currently engaged to longtime companion and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson. He was passed up to replace Mike Brown in favor of Mike D’Antoni, a move Jim made along with general manager Mitch Kupchak and the late Dr. Buss.

“They will work together,” Steiner said. “They are their father’s children. They understand the business and the sports elements.”

Jerry Buss certainly did.

He hired sharp basketball minds such as general managers Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Buss showed a willingness to spend money. He encouraged his front office to takes risks. It earned him an induction in 2010 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“Having marquee players was very important,” Steiner said. “He felt you could not win without superstars and could not capture L.A.’s imagination without giants. Jerry Buss is a gambler in his love of poker. But he was a not a gambler in business. He made calculated risks and did his examinations early on.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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