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NBA FINALS / GAME 6: LAKERS 116, INDIANA 111

Something That Never Gets Old

Owner: Lakers have won six NBA championships under Buss, and the latest has its special qualities.

June 20, 2000|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Drenched in champagne and glory, an NBA championship trophy in his hands, Laker owner Jerry Buss, a wide smile on his face, said, "I've waited all my life for this."

The year was 1980. It was his first season of ownership.

It was the start of a dynasty, the championships coming with amazing regularity, five in all in the decade.

Then came the drought of the '90s, no titles, no glory, no champagne.

So Monday night, Buss sat in his private box at Staples Center with sons Jesse, 12, and Joey, 16, and grandson Jagger, 15, the old hunger and nervousness back.

With 5.4 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the NBA finals, Dale Davis dunked the ball through the hoop, and the Lakers were ahead by three, 114-111.

"When they gave Kobe [Bryant] three seconds to dribble, I figured that was it," Buss said.

That indeed was it. And when the final buzzer had sounded and the Lakers had won their sixth title in Buss' 21 seasons, he took off on a victory tour through Staples Center.

First stop, the court, where Buss, joined by Coach Phil Jackson and the Laker players, accepted the trophy.

"I'm very proud of the fans," Buss said. "People told us the greatest fans in the world were in other cities. That's crazy."

Second stop, the locker room, where Buss made his way through a champagne shower. Center Shaquille O'Neal was rolling around on the floor, locked in the embrace of several teammates. Rick Fox, a cigar in his mouth, a champagne bottle in his hand, was camped in one corner.

Buss went into a side room with family and friends, King co-owner Ed Roski and Buss' longtime friend John Rockwell, a Beverly Hills restaurant owner.

"It's been so long in coming," said Buss after taking a sip of fruit juice and catching his breath. "Before, the championships came quick and rapid.

"This [championship] is vindication for everything [Executive Vice President] Jerry West did. Shaq was the missing piece of the puzzle. Jerry put everything together. This is the most gratifying championship."

Third stop, the media room where Buss faced reporters.

"I felt confident we would have a big improvement [under Jackson]," Buss said. "But to take us to the championship in the first year? That's something I couldn't even imagine. At least in my mind, I doubt whether anybody else could have done that."

As Buss sat at a table facing reporters, he was joined by O'Neal.

"Extension, extension," said the Laker center with a big grin, referring to a new contract.

"Whatever you want, baby," Buss said.

Out in the hall, Buss ran into Isiah Thomas, the former Detroit Piston star on hand as a television analyst.

"You did it," Thomas whispered in Buss' ear.

"I had a lot of big help," Buss replied.

As he walked down the hall, Buss was embraced by Jesse.

"I've never had my little boy hug me so much," Buss said.

Buss was particularly happy to see his young children go through the joy of a Laker title.

"They were too young to experience it the first time," Buss said. "They heard about it, read about it, but to experience it themselves is wonderful."

In the midst of celebrating his team's great moment, Buss took time to praise Jesse, who recently scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds in a YMCA game.

"Can you afford to sign him?" a reporter asked Buss.

"Only because of who he is," Buss replied.

Fourth stop, a television interview area, where Buss ran into Magic Johnson, his closest friend among the players he's had over the last 21 seasons, and the man who spearheaded the first five titles with Buss as owner.

"Thank you for letting me be a part of this," Johnson said.

To a reporter, Johnson added, "He is like a father to me."

Buss appeared ready to cry.

"After 10 years, we didn't have any superstars any more," Buss said. "It was time to go to work. Thank heaven for Jerry West."

The reporter had to leave the victory tour to go write his story, but Buss continued down the hall.

There were well-wishers to see, atmosphere to soak in and a party to enjoy that will last at least until Wednesday's downtown parade and probably a lot longer.

He didn't wait all his life for this time. It just seems that way.

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