News Column

Jerry Buss Remembered as a 'Renaissance Man' And 'Transformational Force'

Feb 22, 2013

Janis Carr

Jerry Buss

Magic Johnson asked everyone to stand and hold up their fingers in a "Laker L" shape for the late Jerry Buss, and to no one's surprise, all 3,500 family, friends, players and guests raised their hands. It was that kind of memorial for the late Lakers owner, who died Monday at age 80.

Johnson punctuated the 90-minute service by getting the audience on its feet, clapping and cheering for Buss.

"He didn't like it sad, he wanted it to be fun," Johnson said.

A who's-who of basketball celebrated the life of Buss on Thursday in an upbeat service that featured speakers, musicians, a little-known friend and the USC band. The program focused on Buss' uncanny vision to build a dynasty in Los Angeles as evidenced by the number of All-Stars, coaches, general managers and fellow owners who filled the lower bowl of the Nokia Theater.

"He wanted to build something special, and I think he felt I was going to be a major part of that," Magic said before the tribute. "So he became a father figure, an adviser and you know everything to me."

Magic said he would remember all the good times he and Buss shared, such as winning five NBA championships, as well as the bad, those times "we cried in the locker room when we lost. But nobody will ever forget Dr. Buss not in sports, not in this world.

"When you think about 10 championships ... he wanted this franchise to be the best in the world and he achieved that. So we should all salute him for that."

And they did, with hand gestures, heartfelt words and a bit of comic relief from former Lakers great Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal, who won three titles during his seven seasons with the Lakers, said Buss gave him everything he ever wanted.

"I wanted an extension and he gave it to me. I wanted a second extension and he gave it to me. I wanted a third and he traded me," O'Neal said, eliciting laughter from those who knew about Buss' unyielding business nature.

"He was a visionary. He saw the future before anyone of us did," O'Neal added.

But for all of his on-court successes and real estate millions, Buss never lost sight of the fan, especially those who could not afford the pricey courtside seats. He routinely sat high up at the Forum with fans instead of in his luxury box.

"He could be with kings and queens," Jerry West said, "but I really think he had more fun with the common folks."

Buss' interaction with fans was punctuated by the appearance of Greg Tomlinson, a friend of son Jim Buss, who called himself the "voice of Lakers fan." His unscripted eight-minute speech left many in the audience scratching their head. But that was Buss, whose influence went beyond the board rooms and basketball courts.

The program picked up when former coach Phil Jackson, who guided the Lakers to five NBA titles, took the stage and recalled meeting the iconic owner for the first time after being hired in 1999 and listened as Buss recalled how much fun it was winning five titles in the 1980s.

"He said it seemed like a natural thing, but then the '90s came and it was filled with change and disappointments," Jackson said. "He said he was hoping to win one more championship.

"I told him I thought we had a talented enough team to win more than one, and I was going to accomplish that. We were able to do that and win five championships, just like the team did in the '80s, and it brought Jerry a great deal of happiness."

There weren't many tears but there were a few emotional moments, most notably when former Lakers coach and current Miami Heat president Pat Riley took the stage and talked about the indelible footprints Buss left as an owner, businessman and friend.

"I do believe that to be absent of the body is to be present with God and Jerry is present and accounted for in God's world Showtime," Riley said, choking on his words. "I have been notified by him and he is OK."

While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described Buss as a "modern Renaissance man" and NBA commissioner David Stern called him a "transformational force in the history of sports" because of his history of naming rights for arenas and regional TV networks, West said his former boss was part showman.

West said when he first went to work for Buss in 1979 he learned quickly what Buss wanted in an NBA team.

"He wanted people not only to see a winning basketball team, but entertainment, much like a Broadway show," West said. "I said, 'My God.' ... He was a man who not only changed basketball, but cast a large shadow."

After remembering how Buss trusted in him as a 17-year-old kid to bring championship basketball back to L.A., Kobe Bryant turned to his current teammates and dared them to look around the room and "see the vision of one man's greatness. We're playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season. We are playing for a great man, Dr. Jerry Buss."



Source: (c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.


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