Jerry Buss, owner of the Kings, Lakers and Forum, is apparently on the verge of selling up to 49% of his hockey team.
Bruce McNall, the prospective buyer, said by telephone from New York Tuesday that the deal had not been completed but that he would meet with Buss on Friday in the hope that they would be ready to seek approval of the National Hockey League's Board of Governors at a league meeting Sept. 10-11 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Buss could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman for him said that the deal was already made, that Buss had reached a "gentleman's agreement" with close friend McNall involving not more than 49% of the Kings. He said they would definitely seek league approval next week.
Any ownership change involving more than 5% must be approved by the league. A highly placed league source said that each of the other clubs has been notified that the prospective sale would be discussed at the Vancouver meeting.
The source said that the deal calls for McNall to buy 25% of the Kings, with an option on another 24%. He estimated that Buss, who bought the Kings, Lakers and Forum for $67.5 million in 1979, would receive about $10 million from the sale of 49%. It was learned, however, that Buss may not receive all of the cash, since the deal involves shares of the Kings now owned by Buss' former wife, Joann.
The source said that the deal may also include a private loan from McNall, a noted coin and stamp collector who has made successful investments in the entertainment and horse racing industries, to Buss.
McNall said, however, that he has been discussing the transaction with Buss "on a very casual basis for more than a year" and at no time did he sense that Buss was considering the sale "because of financial need."
McNall said that he would be interested in purchasing majority ownership if the opportunity presented itself but added: "At the moment, Jerry isn't interested in selling 100% or giving up his majority position. He is still dedicated to bringing a top hockey team to Los Angeles. If I wasn't convinced of that, I wouldn't be interested in minority ownership. He's a good friend, and I also expect him to be a good partner. That's important to me."
McNall, 36, made his first financial impact as a teen-age coin collector. He was 24 when he bought a 2,000-year-old Greek coin for $420,000 and later sold it for $1 million. He had already graduated from UCLA and received a Ph.D. from Oxford in ancient history.
He has homes in Beverly Hills, Westwood and Malibu. He owns Summa Galleries and Numismatic Fine Arts, is chairman of Gladden Entertainment Corp., a Beverly Hills film production company, and has been extremely successful in the breeding and racing of thoroughbreds through his Summa Stables.
Estrapade, who won Sunday's Budweiser-Arlington Million, was once owned by McNall in partnership with Nelson Bunker Hunt. Track Robbery, which he owned, won the 1982 Eclipse Award for older fillies and mares. Argument, whom he owned in partnership with Motown's Barry Gordy, won the 1980 Washington D.C. International.
At the Keeneland Breeding Stock Sale in 1979, McNall and movie executive Sy Weintraub stunned the racing world by buying Syrian Sea for $1.4 million, Lauries Dancer for $825,000, Spring Is Sprung for $710,000 and Gay Matelda for $660,000.
"Dollar for dollar, I've done better in racing than in any of my other investments," McNall once said.
As for hockey, McNall said Tuesday he has been a longtime Kings' fan and a longtime friend of Buss, who shares McNall's interest in stamps and racing. McNall said that the Kings represent "a lot of upside potential." He then laughed and said, "of course, they can't go any further down."
The Kings had a 23-49-8 record last season, the NHL's second worst. They won only nine games at home, averaged just 10,231 in attendance and set team records for most goals allowed, 389; most consecutive losses, 9, and most losses at home, 27.
Why would a shrewd investor want part of that action?
"Los Angeles and New York are still the two sports centers," McNall said. "The Kings have a solid nucleus of fans. It's been shown they'll support a winner, and that's what Jerry is still determined to produce. I love hockey and I believe in him. I want to be part of it."
The Kings will begin preparations for their 20th season Sept. 12 in Victoria, the day after the NHL meetings end in Vancouver. McNall said he could end up owning anywhere from 10% to 49%, depending on how the deal is finally written. Staff writer Chris Baker contributed to this story.