How very corporate of them.
On Thursday afternoon at LA Live's Nokia Theater, a collection of family, friends, coaches, players, and local media came together to celebrate the life of Dr. Jerry Buss and to move beyond the mere numbers to provide a more humane glimpse into the man's personality and his effect on others.
The closed-to-the-public ceremony included speakers from virtually every era of Los Angeles Lakers history, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson.
Also present were many non-speaking Laker attendees, such as Elgin Baylor, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, A.C. Green, Jordan Hill, Elden Campbell, Cedric Ceballos, Dwight Howard, James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis, Norm Nixon, Bill Bertka, and Steve Nash, just to name a few.
The ceremony was both celebratory and moving, mixing music, humor, heartfelt speeches, and visual images, all on a stage decorated fittingly, with the franchise's impressive collection of Larry O'Brien trophies.
Although every speaker had his own unique Jerry Buss story to tell, each story seemed to have a common theme -- Buss was a visionary businessman who treated people with kindness, dignity, humility, and respect.
The only awkward part of the ceremony was when Laker executive Jim Buss asked his friend, Greg Tomlinson, who was not a scheduled speaker, to give a speech. Although Tomlinson met Jerry Buss in passing only a few times and knew far less about him than any other speaker, the man nevertheless felt compelled to speak longer -- too long, most felt -- than anyone else at the service.
Some might claim it was just another example of Jim Buss' poor decision-making.
Still, with so much of basketball's royalty assembled under one roof, the service could not help but be inspiring. Here are some of the highlights:
- Pat Riley instantly uplifting and transporting everyone back to the glory days of Showtime with his opening line, "I feel like I'm back home."
- Magic Johnson, the final and best speaker, telling of Buss crying with him after learning of Johnson's contraction of HIV. Johnson explained that Buss made countless calls to local doctors and hospitals, and said, "That's when I knew this man loved me and cared about me outside winning championships and making no-look passes."
- Magic explaining that Buss became a second father to him, expanding his horizons by taking him to boxing and tennis matches for the first time in his life. When Buss offered to take him to a horse race, Johnson recalled telling him, "Dr. Buss, I'm a black man from Lansing. I don't know about horses." Magic also recalled his initial reaction when Buss offered to take him see the LA Kings, stating, "Brothers don't skate Dr. Buss."
- Jerry West speaking about the contrast in management styles between the previous Lakers owners and the kinder, more humble Buss. West said Buss was "different, but a good different."
- West also talked about his friendship with Buss, reminiscing about their walks together in Hawaii. West told a funny story about Buss' notorious love for partying as well, explaining that when Buss forgot his credit card and asked West to pay the bill one night, the total amount for the champagne was about $8000.
- NBA Commissioner David Stern recalling his first meeting with Buss in 1979 when Stern was general counsel for the league. Stern noted Buss' incredible patience and grace as the league's other owners struggled to comprehend the terms of his purchase of the Lakers.
- Stern also spoke of Buss' love of reading and how he would invite authors to Laker games to discuss their work. "He was trading tickets for knowledge," Stern said.
- Shaq cracking up the room when he explained how Buss gave him everything he wanted. "I wanted one extension. He gave it to me. I wanted a second extension. He gave it to me. I wanted a third extension. He traded me."
- West not only emphasized Buss' intelligence, but also his integrity, looking over at David Stern and telling him Buss "was the one owner who never did anything wrong."
- Kobe Bryant candidly revealing his hesistancy about playing under coach Phil Jackson a second time, until Buss simply told him, "Trust me." Bryant noted that his trust was rewarded with two more titles.
- Bryant imploring his current teammates in attendance to use the memory of Dr. Buss as motivation for this season, stating, "we are playing for the memory of a great man."
- Randy Newman, famous for his "I Love LA" song that has played for years at every home game, performing "You've Got a Friend in Me."
- Magic speaking of how Buss became his business mentor by picking his brain with questions as they played pool until 5:00 a.m.
- Magic speculating that Buss already had formed his own basketball team in heaven, with Wilt Chamberlain as his center and Chick Hearn as his announcer. Johnson also warned that Buss "better not get a point guard."
- Numerous speakers from Jim Hill to Jerry West commenting on Buss' incredible schedule -- waking up early, going to bed sometimes as late as 5:00 a.m., and working hard in between. "He was first to work, but never went to bed," West said.
- Jerry West recalling an early meeting with Buss and learning about his transforming vision for the Lakers, as Buss told him, "I want entertainment like a Broadway show."
- Multiple speakers talking about Buss' many innovations, including the Laker Girls, stadium naming rights, team cable networks, and seating and arena construction.
- Magic concluding the ceremony by asking the family not to sell the team and by having those in attendance stand and put up an "L" sign with their hand to honor Buss. The only ones who seemingly did not comply were reporter Ramona Shelburne and a few other ESPN suits seated in the media section. Magic then led the audience in a loud, celebratory standing ovation for Dr. Buss, stating, "This is a celebration of life."
By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for The Daily Sports Herald