Jerry Buss navigated his way through life and business much as Magic Johnson navigated through a tight NBA defense. He had moves, a quick learning curve and a confidence.
In the wake of Buss' death Monday, all sides of him will be in play in the news and tributes.
There will be mentions of his gambling habits. He never met a poker table he didn't like. Also mentions of his fascination with younger women. He never met an attractive 22-year-old he didn't like.
He was a major player in a big and complicated business world. Real estate dealings put him into a position where he could do something as risky and extravagant as buying the Lakers. And even when he played the real-estate game along a slippery edge, he was able to stay upright, despite being hit with a hard shot.
It was 1985. Buss owned rental properties in Arizona and had paid taxes on some of them at a level 8% below the going rate. Times sportswriter Steve Springer dug out a story that Arizona authorities were investigating him. Buss said he hadn't understood the complexities of the Arizona tax laws and, the moment he saw the gravity of the matter and read threatening quotes from Arizona officials in Springer's story that raised the possibility of prosecution, he wrote a check for nearly $1 million to settle things.
Most people in Buss' position would have, understandably, had a difficult time being cheery with the reporter who had brought it all on, even when the report was accurate. Not Buss. The next time he saw Springer, he joked that, had he known Springer was writing that story, he would have given him the $1 million instead.