Past and present Lakers players, coaches, extended family and VIPs from across the world of entertainment assembled in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, February 21 to pay homage to Jerry Buss, the longtime Lakers owner who died Monday from kidney failure after an 18-month battle with cancer.
The 90 minute ceremony was held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles and estimated 3,000 people were in attendance. The event was also televised live by Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
The stage was decorated 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 across a video screen throughout the ceremony. Buss oversaw an unprecedented era of winning after purchasing the Lakers for $67.5 million in 1979, capturing 10 NBA championships and making it to 16 Finals in his 34 years as the owner.
Among those who were invited to celebrate Buss’ life 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 list of speakers included AEG executive Tim Leiweke, Johnny Buss, Buss business associate Frank Mariani, David Stern, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, Pat Riley, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.
Kobe Bryant recalled being a stubborn 17-year-old and having Buss tell him that he wanted him to be a Laker for life.
“I encourage all of you, me included, to just look around the room and look at the greatness of one man’s vision. Look at all the players that are here, coaches that are here. We all have one thing in common, that we all believed in Dr. Jerry Buss,” said Bryant, speaking to his teammates who were at the memorial. “And so [it’s important] for us to look around this room and to understand that we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season. We are playing for the memory of a great man, which is Dr. Jerry Buss.”
During Magic Johnson’s speech, he asked the approximately 50 current and former Laker players and coaches in attendance to stand up and be recognized and later asked the entire crowd to hold up their thumb and index fingers in the shape of an “L” to show their Laker pride.
“This is a celebration of life,” Johnson proclaimed. “This is a celebration of success. We shouldn’t be sad. We should be happy that the man enjoyed his life and did it his way.”
As could be expected, there was an aspect of entertainment as the speeches were interspersed with musical performances by Randy Newman, who played “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” Davis Gaines, who sang “Music of the Night” from the “Phantom of the Opera,” and the USC band, which played “Amazing Grace.”
The Lakers will be owned now by a trust held by Buss’ six children — Johnny, Jeanie, Jim, Jesse, Joey and Janie Drexel. Of those, Jeanie, who runs the team’s business operations, and Jim, who runs the team’s basketball operations, were entrusted with the most responsibility.
In the program for Thursday’s ceremony, Jeanie Buss wrote eloquently of the responsibility she feels to carry on her father’s legacy and carry out his vision.
“It will at times be heartbreaking to live without you,” she wrote to her father. “And I know there will be plenty of challenges ahead on the path you set for us. But I will draw comfort from your teachings. When questions and doubts creep into my mind, I will draw from your wisdom. For you were my professor, my ally, my captain.