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Jerry Buss memorial: Lakers greats recall a man of the people

February 21, 2013|Times staff reports
  • Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recalled his first meeting with Jerry Buss, the team's owner wore jeans, running shoes and an open-neck shirt.
Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recalled his first meeting with Jerry… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Phil Jackson won five championships and advanced to two other NBA Finals while coaching the Lakers for owner Jerry Buss.

His words were as anticipated as anybody’s Thursday at Buss’ memorial service at Nokia Theatre.

Jackson said he first remembered meeting Buss in 1999 after being hired to coach the Lakers. Buss was wearing his standard attire, Jackson remembered -- jeans, running shoes and an open-neck shirt.

“He told me how much fun he’d had in the ’80s, winning five championships. He said it seemed like almost 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 he 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 that team did in the ’80s, and it brought Jerry a great deal of [happiness].”

Jackson then received a round of applause from the memorial guests at Nokia Theatre.

Jackson coached the Lakers for five seasons, sat out the 2004-05 season, and then came back to coach the Lakers for six more seasons. He was part of the uncomfortable 2007 off-season, when Kobe Bryant demanded to be traded after three consecutive failed seasons.

“During that fall, when things got a little bit testy, we had many meetings,” Jackson said. “During one of those meetings, Dr. Buss said to Kobe, ‘If I had a diamond of great value, four or five carats, would I give up that diamond for four diamonds of one karat? No. There’s no equal value that we can get for you.’

“He prevailed and we won two more championships.”

Jackson ended by saying Thursday was a day to celebrate a life that was “a diamond of great value.”

Magic Johnson, the leader of Buss' Showtime Lakers, remembered the team's owner as a father figure and the satisfaction of winning a championship in his rookie season.

"He would ask me to go have lunch with him after our practices in Palm Springs and we would just sit and talk about what his vision was for the organization, how much he wanted to win and definitely how bad he wanted to beat the Celtics.

"To be able to deliver with Kareem, Norm, Jamaal and all the guys that [won] the championship that first year, how happy he was and how excited as rookies -- him a rookie owner and me a rookie player -- we both just sat and enjoyed that moment."

Johnson also said Buss was the perfect business mentor.

"As we played pool until four or five o’clock in the morning, he was picking my brain to what I wanted to do after basketball," Johnson said. "He became my advisor and it was tremendous, because with him and his expertise, I knew I had a chance to be successful away from the basketball court."

And when Johnson tested positive for HIV, Buss was more of a father figure then ever.

"As we cried for hours -- him not knowing if I would be here 22 years later -– thinking he would lose a son, an adopted son, he picked up the phone and started calling hospitals to make sure I had the best health care possible -- the best doctors.

"He would call me all the time, 'Are you taking your meds? Are you doing what you're supposed to do?' That's when I knew this man loved me and cared about of me outside of winning championships, outside of making no-look passes.

"That’s who Jerry Buss was.  He cared about all his players not just on the court but off the court as well -- as men, as people."

Kobe Bryant has spent every minute of his 17-year NBA career with the Lakers. His relationship with Buss was a main reason he re-signed with the Lakers as a highly sought free agent in 2004. He was also convinced by Buss to stay with the Lakers after demanding a trade in 2007.

Bryant wasn’t sure what he was going to say about Buss a few hours before the memorial service for the deceased Lakers’ owner, saying only it would come “from the heart.”

When he spoke at Nokia Theatre, he mentioned his first meeting with Buss.

“I remember Dr. Jerry Buss telling me, ‘I want you to become a Laker for life.’ At the time, I was 17, stubborn, a know-it-all kid. The trust that he had in me to deliver for this franchise and all the history that this franchise had made me want to go the extra mile for him, made me want to believe in him.”

Bryant said his most memorable off-season was actually 2005, not 2004 or 2007.

“The biggest summer to me was the summer when we were looking for a head coach,” Bryant said. “[Buss] sits me down and he says, ‘You know, what do you think about brining Phil Jackson back to coach again?’”

Bryant recreated the scene Thursday by grimacing and shifting uncomfortably: “ ‘I don’t really know how I feel about that, Dr. B,’ ” Bryant said.

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