LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jerry Buss, el propietario de los Lakers bajo cuya conducción el quinteto cosechó diez campeonatos de la NBA, falleció el lunes a los 80 años de edad, informó su asistente.

Buss murió en el Cedars-Sinai Medical Center de Los Angeles, donde había estado internado la mayor parte del tiempo desde hacía 18 meses, combatiendo un cáncer. El deceso fue ocasionado por una falla renal, según su asistente Bob Steiner.

"La NBA perdió un propietario visionario cuya influencia en nuestra liga es incalculable y será sentida por décadas", declaró el comisionado de la NBA David Stern.

Desde que Buss se hizo cargo en 1979, los Lakers pasaron a ser el equipo deportivo más popular del sur de California y se generaron un aura que los hacía parecer una brazo de Hollywood. Buss contrató y ayudó a formar a figuras enormemente populares como Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal y Dwight Howard.

"Fue no solo el mejor propietario de un equipo deportivo, sino un verdadero amigo y un tipo realmente genial. Lo quise mucho", tuiteó James Worthy, ex jugador de los Lakers elevado al Salón de la Fama.

Pocos propietarios tienen los logros de Buss. Desde que es dueño de los Lakers, el equipo llegó a la final del campeonato de la NBA 16 veces en 34 años y la ganó en 10 ocasiones entre 1980 y 2010. Es de lejos el equipo más exitoso de la NBA desde que compró el club, que ahora es manejado por Jim y Jeanie Buss, dos de sus seis hijos.

"Perdimos no solo a nuestro querido padre, sino una persona muy querida por nuestra comunidad y muy respetada en el mundo del básquetbol", dijo la familia Buss en un comunicado.

Agregó que la familia no piensa deshacerse del equipo.

"Nuestro padre siempre quiso que los Lakers siguiesen en la familia Buss", dice el comunicado.

Buss hablaba de los Lakers como si fuesen parte de su familia y transmitía un entusiasmo contagioso que generaba enorme lealtad de parte de sus jugadores.

Pese a no tener una enorme fortuna personal, Buss contaba con una de las nóminas más costosas del básquetbol y contrataba técnicos igualmente caros, como Pat Riley y Phil Jackson.

Fue un innovador que encontró formas de generar ingresos. Cofundó una cadena televisiva de deportes y vendió los derechos a usar el nombre de los Lakers en una época en la que esa no era una medida popular.

"Jerry Buss fue un pilar de la comunidad deportiva de Los Angeles y su nombre siempre será asociado con sus queridos Lakers", expresó el alcalde de Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.

Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar y Worthy forjaron estrechas amistades con Buss durante un período de nueve años en el que los Lakers salieron campeones cinco veces y le dieron al básquetbol una espectacularidad que no tenía.

Posteriormente, con Jackson en el timón y O'Neal y Bryant en el terreno de juego, llegaron tres títulos seguidos entre el 2000 y el 2002, a los que se sumaron dos más en el 2009 y 2010, con un equipo encabezado por Bryant y Pau Gasol, y dirigido nuevamente por Jackson.

Buss fue un erudito, un renacentista y bon vivant que pasó a simbolizar un estilo de vida típico de Los Angeles.

Antes de incursionar en el mundo del deporte sacó un doctorado en química y se dedicó con éxito a los bienes raíces y a la industria aeroespacial. Con el dinero que le generaron sus actividades inmobiliarias y astutas maniobras financieras adquirió los Lakers y el equipo de hóckey sobre hielo Kings, y sus dos estadios, en 67,5 millones de dólares, en lo que fue la operación más cuantiosa de la historia hasta ese momento.

El mes pasado la revista Forbes calculó que los Lakers valían 1.000 millones de dólares en la actualidad.

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