- Associated Press - Thursday, February 21, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Magic Johnson considered himself to be the adopted son of Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Shaquille O’Neal hailed Buss for his foresight, while Kobe Bryant cited Buss‘ ability to convince people to believe in him. Jerry West remembered a party-loving Buss who never went to bed, making it easy to be the first one at work in the morning.

They were among the basketball greats gathered Thursday at an invitation-only memorial service to salute the life and legacy of Buss, who died this week at 80 after an 18-month struggle with cancer.

The stage at the Nokia Theatre across from Staples Center was bedecked with all 10 of the NBA championship trophies won by the Lakers under Buss and more than 30 floral arrangements. Photos of Buss throughout his life flashed on a video screen.

Johnson punctuated the 1 1/2-hour service by getting the audience on its feet, clapping and cheering for Buss. “He didn’t like it sad, he wanted it to be fun,” Johnson said.

O’Neal recalled Buss bringing him on the floor at the Forum in Inglewood and telling him to look up at the championship banners in the rafters.

“He told me, `Son, we expect big things out of you and some 18-year-old kid we just signed, Kobe Bryant,’” O’Neal told the audience, which filled about half of the 7,000-seat venue.

O’Neal and Bryant certainly delivered, teaming to win three titles despite their personal discord.

“He gave me everything I wanted,” O’Neal said of Buss. “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.”

Johnson told of arriving in Los Angeles and not knowing anyone as a 19-year-old drafted by the Lakers out of Michigan State.

“God knew I needed a father figure,” he said, explaining how Buss quickly filled the role by taking Johnson to his first boxing match in Las Vegas, his first tennis match, and his first horse race at Hollywood Park across from the Forum.

“I said, `Dr. Buss, I’m a black man from Lansing, Michigan. We don’t know anything about horse racing,’” Johnson said, drawing laughs. “I went and enjoyed myself.”

After the Los Angeles Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky in a blockbuster deal in 1988, Johnson reluctantly attended his first hockey game, telling Buss, “Brothers don’t skate.”

Buss replied, “The way you play basketball that man plays hockey. I want you to see the Magic man of hockey.”

But it wasn’t until Johnson’s 1992 public admission that he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, did he realize how Buss really felt about him.

“As we cried for hours, him not knowing I would be here 22 years later, he picked up the phone and started calling hospitals to make sure I had the best health care possible and the best doctors,” Johnson said. “That’s when I knew this man cared for me outside of basketball, outside of making no-look passes.”

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