Lakers greats reflect at Jerry Buss memorial

Magic, Phil and Kobe are among the former players and coaches to reflect on the team's visionary owner.

LOS ANGELES — A who’s-who of Lakers and NBA legends showed up Thursday to celebrate the life of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died Monday after an 18-month cancer ordeal.

Many former Lakers showed up at the Nokia Theatre across the street from Staples Center in downtown LA to pay tribute to Buss, who was 80 years old.

Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Bill Sharman, Byron Scott, Mychal Thompson, Cedric Ceballos and Magic Johnson were some of the former Lakers in attendance. They were joined by the entire current Lakers team, led by captains Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, both of whom spoke at the memorial — Gasol in Spanish. NBA commissioner David Stern, Phil Jackson and Bill Walton also were at the service.

“This is a celebration of life and a celebration of success,” Magic told an audience of approximately 4,000. Magic said he considered Buss to be “a second father to me from the time I came here from Michigan.

“He was a great man and a great father,” Magic added. “He also left an unbelievable legacy of 10 championships for the city of Los Angeles in 30-plus years of excellence.”

Stern credited Buss for turning around the financially struggling NBA when he joined the league and presented his novel approach to marketing the game.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Jerry Buss was a transformational force in the history of sports,” the commissioner said. “Creating the value proposition through (ticket) pricing, TV rights, naming rights and entertainment, which underlie all arena and stadium construction around the world.”

Buss — a chemistry professor at USC who along with partner Frank Mariani parlayed a $1,000 real estate investment into hundreds of millions of dollars — bought the Lakers as part of a package from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for a then-sports transaction record of $67.5 million. Cooke had to sell the Lakers, Kings, The Forum and a large ranch in order to finance a settlement after divorcing his wife Barbara. (The$ 49 million he paid her also was a world record at the time).

Buss later sold the Kings, The Forum and the RalJon ranch, but even through some tough financial times early in his Lakers tenure, he would never give up controlling interest in the team that he loved.

He treated the players not as employees, but as family members, offering them financial advice, and counseling about their personal lives if they requested it.

“He was like a second dad to all of us (Lakers),” Magic said.

The team repaid that love by reaching the Finals 16 times and winning 10 NBA titles in 33 years, helping Buss build an empire worth over a billion dollars at the time of his death.

The basketball operations will continue to be run by his son, VP of player personnel Jim Buss and current Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, while daughter Jeanie will still handle the financial side of the team as VP of business. Jeanie has also been designated as governor representing the Lakers at all league meetings.

Buss’ six children were at the memorial, with Johnny, Janie, Jessie and Joey joining Jim and Jeanie. Johnny was the only one who spoke, however, talking about what a fantastic job his father did raising his clan. He also lightened the mood a bit when he referred to his dad hanging on to make it to Valentine’s Day, “a day that meant a lot to him,” Johnny Buss said with a smile, referring to his father’s well-known practice of always having a beautiful, young woman — or two — on his arm.

The other children chose to write short passages in the program that was passed out at the memorial. Jim saluted his father for never backing down or failing to take a reasonable risk.

“You did it your way,” Jim wrote, “and I’m so proud of you.” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was the song chosen to end the proceedings.

The 2012-13 Lakers began the tribute to Buss with a win Wednesday night over the team Buss loved to beat more than any other — the Boston Celtics. Afterwards, Dwight Howard said the team needed to fight back from all the season-long adversity to make the playoffs and “get it done for Dr. Buss.”

Nothing would have made the good doctor happier.