Jerry Buss’ then-unprecedented purchase of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 turned out to be an immediate success. The team won a title in the first year under his ownership. The win kicked off what would become an enviable legacy for the franchise, thanks in big part to Jerry’s vision and willingness to spend. HBO’s drama series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’ dramatizes the Lakers’ rise and Jerry’s involvement with it. So, if you’re wondering how he made the money that ultimately made him one of the most successful franchise owners of all time, we’ve got you covered.
How Did Jerry Buss Earn His Money?
Jerry had the ultimate rags-to-riches story, living in Wyoming as a child during the Great Depression. He worked for his stepfather’s plumbing business, a local hotel, and later quit school to take up a job in the railroad industry. Then, Jerry was pushed to pursue his undergraduate degree and, finally, a doctorate. In 1959, Jerry made his first investment; he convinced four investors to put down $6000 in all for a loan to buy a property in Los Angeles, California. That turned into a real estate empire worth $350 million many years later.
In 1977, then Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke contemplated selling the team after a costly divorce settlement. Jerry suggested a real estate swap, and the sale eventually included the Kings (an NHL franchise), the Forum (Lakers’ home stadium at the time), and a $10 million ranch. In return, Jack received the Chrysler building in New York and other properties. This marked the beginning of the Lakers’ domination in the NBA.
At the time, basketball was waning in popularity, with football and baseball garnering more eyeballs. Jerry had the vision to make basketball not just a sport but a source of entertainment. He wasn’t afraid to spend money on the best talent, coaches, and equipment to win championships that ultimately increased the franchise’s value. To make those big moves, Jerry needed big money. That started with selling the naming rights of the Forum to Great Western Bank.
He also had cheerleaders, a house band, and encouraged celebrities and Hollywood stars to attend. By introducing premium seating, the courtside seats previously reserved for the media became much sought after and were priced higher. Jerry also co-founded the Prime Time TV Network and, in an innovative move, offered Lakers games on basic cable. This meant higher viewership and that, in turn, brought advertisement revenue.
In a 2010 interview, Jerry said, “My dream really was to have the Lakers and Los Angeles identified as one and the same. When you think New York, you think Yankees. I wanted that to be the case here as well. That when you think L.A., you think Lakers. I believe I’ve accomplished that.” His decisions paid off, with the Lakers winning five titles in the first ten years under his ownership, adding five more before his death in 2013.
Jerry Buss’ Net Worth at the Time of His Death
The Lakers were valued at around $1 billion in 2013, and Jerry’s net worth at the time of his death was estimated to be around $600 million.