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Question of the Day
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.
“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.
Buss replied, “The way you play basketball that man plays hockey. I want you to see the Magic man of hockey.”
“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.”
Among the other speakers were NBA commissioner David Stern, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol (who spoke in Spanish) and Pat Riley.
“He just looked at me and said, `Trust me,’ and I did and that took us to another level winning two championships,” he said. “He had this ability to convince you to follow him.”
West first met Buss in 1979, having already worked for two previous owners of the Lakers, including Jack Kent Cooke, who sold the team to Buss. West had to get used to Buss‘ lust for life that included hard work and heartier partying.
He recalled one celebration in which Buss had forgotten his credit card and asked West to pick up a tab that included $8,000 for champagne alone. Another time he was out with Buss and work ethic was being discussed.
“He never went to bed so how the hell could he not be the first one to work?” West said.
Johnny Buss, the oldest of the six Buss children, spoke on behalf of the family. He mentioned his father’s penchant for wearing jeans cut off at the bottom.
“They would fringe and I caught him one time combing the bottom of the fringe,” he said, suggesting that on every Jan. 27 _ his father’s birthday _ people don jeans with the bottom cut off in Jerry’s honor.
The younger Buss provided insight into life with his father, who loved travel, wine, poker, books, classical music and movies. He called him “a man who would take us on an incredible journey that no one could ever imagine.”
“Not everything went right but because he was always thinking ahead, everything became right,” Johnny Buss said. “He never had to step on anyone to get ahead. He surrounded himself with good people. He loved L.A. and as we can see L.A. loved him, too.”
The audience included the current Lakers team, Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Bill Walton, former Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former Lakers Byron Scott, A.C. Green and Cedric Ceballos, retired Los Angeles Sparks star Lisa Leslie, former Southern California athletic director Mike Garrett, longtime Lakers fan Dyan Cannon, and Los Angeles Kings broadcasters Bob Miller and Jim Fox.
The speeches were interspersed with performances, including nine members of the USC band playing “Amazing Grace.” Randy Newman, whose iconic “I Love LA” anthem is played at every Lakers game, sang his hit “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the movie “Toy Story.” Davis Gaines sang a number from “Phantom of the Opera.”
Buss is to be buried Friday in a private service.
By Ted Cruz
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