HOUSTON — Kobe Bryant was reflective Friday when talking about Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who is hospitalized with an undisclosed form of cancer.
"He's meant everything to me in my career in terms of taking a risk on a 17-year-old kid coming out of high school and then believing in me my entire career. And then for the game itself, the brand of basketball that he implemented in Showtime carried the league," Bryant said at a news conference during the NBA's All-Star weekend.
The Times reported Thursday that Buss, 79, is in the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Several current and former Lakers players, including Bryant, Pau Gasol and Magic Johnson, have visited Buss. A Lakers spokesman said the team has no plans to comment on Buss' health.
"You think about the rivalry that took place between the Lakers and the Celtics and what that did for the global outreach of the game. I mean, it reached me and I was all the way in Italy and I was only 6 years old," Bryant said.
Bryant spent many of his formative years in Italy as his father, Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant, played overseas.
The Lakers in 1996 traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Bryant, shortly after he'd been drafted out of high school. The Lakers have gone to seven NBA Finals with Bryant, winning five titles.
Bryant was asked Friday about Buss' overall imprint on the game. "It's beyond measure. There's nothing you can do to really define it. What he's done consistently, it's tough to really find a match for that in any sport. He's been a model of consistency," Bryant said.
Bryant also had high praise for Buss on Thursday night at Staples Center.
"He's extremely, extremely intelligent and extremely patient," Bryant said. "He has his goals. He knows exactly what he wants to do and how he wants to construct the ballclub."
The Lakers have won 10 championships since Buss purchased the team in 1979.
"He's just extremely, extremely smart going about it," Bryant said Thursday. "It's very rare to find that kind of owner that can seemingly not make any mistakes. It's pretty impressive."
Meanwhile, there was the problem of the Lakers' play on the court Thursday, as they were blasted by the Clippers in a 125-101 loss. During and after the game, Bryant was livid.
"It's not a good feeling at all," Bryant said in the Lakers' locker room. "Once things got difficult, we didn't step up to meet that challenge, and I'm not very happy right now and hopefully my teammates feel the same way."
Bryant scored 20 points Thursday while dishing 11 assists, but he struggled with six turnovers. "We've just got to sit over the [All-Star] break and just kind of reflect and think on how important this is to you and what it means to you," he said.
The Lakers (25-29) are in 10th place in the Western Conference.
"We lose by 20 or 30 points, we definitely can't be laughing and joking around," said Bryant, without specifying who he meant.
Bryant seemed to question his teammates' commitment several times.
"If it's important to us, we'll show up ready to play," said Bryant. "We can still put together something pretty special, I think — but there's a lot of work ahead to do."
Times staff writer Bolch reported from Houston. Correspondent Pincus reported from Los Angeles.