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Lakers greats speak fondly of their time with Jerry Buss

From Magic Johnson to Kobe Bryant, Pat Riley to Phil Jackson, Jerry Buss is remembered as a savvy team owner and a friend.

March 02, 2013|By Melissa Rohlin
  • Former Lakers coach Pat Riley speaks during the memorial service for Jerry Buss.
Former Lakers coach Pat Riley speaks during the memorial service for Jerry… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

At Jerry Buss' memorial service Feb. 21, more than a dozen speakers honored the longtime Lakers owner, who died Feb. 18 at age 80 after a battle with cancer. Below are some of the highlights from the service, which included speeches by some current and former Lakers legends.


Johnson played for the Lakers from 1979 to 1991 and returned in the 1995-96 season. He and Buss hung out often, but Johnson didn't realize just how close they had become until he contracted HIV.

"When I announced HIV, I knew he was really a father figure in my life," Johnson said. "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 that I had the best healthcare possible, the best doctors.

"He would call me all the time, 'You OK? You taking your meds? You doing what you're supposed to do?' That's when I knew this man loved me and cared about me outside of winning championships, outside of making no-look passes. That's who Jerry Buss was. He cared about all of his players, not just on the court, but off of the court as well, as men, as people."


Jackson coached the Lakers from 1999 to 2004, left for a season and returned from 2005 to 2011. He described how Buss kept Kobe Bryant on the Lakers when Bryant wanted to leave.

"You remember that summer of [2007] when Kobe Bryant had run out of patience, [and] desperately wanted to be traded to a team that could win a championship again," Jackson said. "During that fall when things got a little bit testy, we had many meetings. Dr. Buss patiently listened to the demands of Kobe and his agent, Rob Pelinka. During one of those meetings, Dr. Buss said, 'Kobe, if I had a diamond of great value, four or five karats, would I give up that diamond for four diamonds of one karat? No. There's no equal value that we can get for you. A trade would not match what you bring to this team.' He prevailed and we won two more championships."


Johnny was Buss' only child who spoke at the service.

"As his children, we will continue to shake off prejudice of trying to fill his shoes," Buss said. "No one can fill his shoes. We can only do our best to continue with our father's request, guided by an intricate road map that he laid out for us over the next generation. We will continue to surround ourselves with good, knowledgeable people, just as our father has. His desire [was] for us to continue winning, [a] winning dynasty for this city."


Bryant has played under Buss since he was an 18-year-old rookie. He recalled a pivotal moment in his career: Buss approached him in the summer of 2005 wanting to know his opinion on whether Phil Jackson should return as head coach. Bryant and Jackson had a rocky relationship at the time, and that meeting had major ramifications for the Lakers' future.

"Now, keep in mind I'm not the most patient individual in the world, and [Buss] sits me down and he says, 'You know, what do you think about bringing Phil Jackson back to coach again?'" Bryant recalled.

Bryant then exaggeratedly leaned from side to side and let out a big groan.

"'Ehhhhhh, well, I don't really know how I feel about that, Dr. B," Bryant told Buss.

Buss was not fazed.

"He just looked at me and he just said: 'Trust me,'" Bryant said. "And I did. And that has taken us to a whole 'nother level in winning another two championships. That came from his vision. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew how he wanted to go about it. But he also had this ability to convince you to follow him, and that's what he did for me on that day."


Abdul-Jabbar played for the Lakers from 1975 to 1989 before becoming a special assistant coach for the team.

"Jerry embraced life with the same enthusiasm and energy that Magic embraced me when we beat the Clippers in his first NBA game," Abdul-Jabbar said. "You know what I'm talking about, right? This passion for life made Jerry a modern Renaissance man. He was a beloved college professor, a courageous entrepreneur and a generous philanthropist. No matter what he did, he was a success. Perhaps his greatest quality was his willingness to share his success with everyone else.

"When I think of Jerry, I like to picture him at his beloved poker table, where he had great success in several major tournaments. I think of him sitting there with the world's best poker players, staring them down, and suddenly pushing all of his chips into the middle, and declaring with a twinkle in his eye, "All in." That's the way Jerry lived his life, all in, all the time.

"John Steinbeck once said: 'It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shown.' But I think in the case of Jerry Buss, we will all be enjoying the bright light he cast for many years to come."


O'Neal played for the Lakers from 1996 to 2004. He recalled the first time he met Buss in 1996 at the Forum.

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