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Lakers Youth Foundation gets $7,825 from Mariani/Buss tournament

August 26, 2013|By Eric Pincus

The Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation received $7,825 from the Mariani/Buss Celebrity Charity Event, presented by WPT Foundation -- held on Sunday at the Bicycle Casino.

"We're here to raise money for the kids of the inner city," said Anthony Mariani, development director of the foundation. "Every dollar that we make goes straight to the community."

The tournament was held in honor of the late Jerry Buss, who passed away in February from cancer complications.

"All of us kids played cards with my dad," said daughter Janie Drexel. "I know that his passion for poker was right up there with basketball."

It was a bittersweet night for longtime friends and family of Buss.

"[It feels] strange.  Kind of different without Jerry," said Buss' business partner Frank Mariani.

The two played cards for decades, although as a rule never against each other.

"It was a good release mechanism. You work harder because you play poker," Mariani said.

Steve Pulliam emerged the victor out of 57 entrants, taking home $8,195.  Toto "The Ripper" Leonidas placed second.

Lakers owner/executive Jim Buss finished 24th, ahead of sister Janie Drexel, Mariani and Lakers scout Chaz Osborne.

World Poker Tour commentator Vince Van Patten came in third.

"[Dr. Buss] was truly world class. He could play [poker] with anyone," Van Patten said. "He made our WPT Invitational top two, almost won the event. That's not a fluke."

"We played poker together," he continued. "[He was] a great lover of life and a good person."

Buss was a regular player at cash games. He would play with some of the best poker players in the world and hold his own.

"I'm sure they took his money, and I'm sure he took theirs," said Anthony Mariani, grandson of Frank Mariani. "I think he ended up on top most of the time."

Drexel noted that Buss had a special feel for the game of poker.

"He was a mathematician and he knew the odds of what cards might come up but I think he was a better reader of people," Drexel said. "I think that was his advantage in the game."

Drexel serves as the executive director of the Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation, which uses sports as a tool to help promote education, teamwork and self-esteem among Los Angeles area youth.

"It's a nice way to give back to the community, run basketball clinics and after-school programs," said Drexel. "Any time you can raise money and have fun doing it, it's a good thing."

Drexel isn't as involved with the day-to-day operations of the Lakers as siblings Jim and Jeanie, despite being a part owner. She is supportive of Jim, who is responsible for making the team's basketball decisions.

"I think that my brother has done a really good job of getting new players and I'm just kind of curious to see how that meshes together," Drexel said. "He's taken a lot of heat for some of the choices that he made but in the long run, I'm excited. I want to see where it goes."

What does she most look forward to this coming season?

"I would love to see Kobe play again, that was very devastating for all of us to watch," Drexel said. "I can't wait to see him back out there on the court."

Bryant was injured on April 12, tearing his Achilles tendon.  He underwent surgery less than 12 hours later. His status for opening night (Oct. 29) remains in question but Bryant is believed to be well ahead of his six- to nine-month recovery timetable.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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