LOS ANGELES —
Born in Salt Lake City, Gerald Hatten Buss was raised in poverty before improving his life through education. He also grew to love basketball, describing himself as an "overly competitive but underly endowed player."
After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Buss attended USC for graduate school because he loved its sports teams. He also became a chemistry professor and worked in the missile division of defense contractor McDonnell Douglas before carving out a path to wealth and sports prominence.
His real-estate portfolio grew out of a $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building with partner Frank Mariani, an aerospace engineer and co-worker.
Heavily leveraging his fortune and various real-estate holdings during two years of negotiations, Buss purchased Cooke's entire Los Angeles sports empire along with a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County. Buss immediately worked to transform the Lakers — who had won just one NBA title since moving west from Minneapolis in 1960 — into a star-powered endeavor befitting Hollywood.
"One of the first things I tried to do when I bought the team was to make it an identification for this city, like Motown in Detroit," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. "I try to keep that identification alive. I'm a real Angeleno. I want us to be part of the community."
With showmanship, fearless spending and a little drafting luck, Buss quickly succeeded: Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and coach Paul Westhead led the Lakers to the 1980 title. Johnson's ball-handling wizardry and Abdul-Jabbar's smooth inside game made for an attractive style of play, and the Lakers came to define West Coast sophistication.
Riley, the former broadcaster who fit the L.A. image perfectly with his slick-backed hair and good looks, became one of the best coaches in NBA history after Buss promoted him, leading the Lakers to four straight NBA finals and four titles.