The basketball world paid its respects on Thursday to Hall-of-Fame Lakers owner Gerald “Jerry” Buss during an invitation-only memorial service.
Friends, family members and current and former NBA stars attended the service at LA Live’s Nokia Center, including NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver, former Lakers coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson and a slew of former Lakers. Among the current and former Lakers in attendance were Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and current Lakers Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Former players, family and friends spoke of the impact of Jerry Buss on their own lives, on the Lakers, and on the entire sports world:
“He loved Los Angeles, and as we can see, Los Angeles loved him too. If you’ve spent time with this man, you didn’t want it to end…If you were a reporter, you wanted five more minutes. If you were a friend, you just wanted to hang out for another hour. If you were his child, you wanted 80 more years,” said oldest son Johnny Buss.
“Jerry Buss led us through the dark ages of basketball….He made it more than sports. We are all richer for having known him. He has left a gigantic shadow for all of sports. He was also a great friend and someone that I admired from a distance even when I left [the Lakers],” said former Lakers guard and General Manager Jerry West.”
“Jerry created a new Laker paradigm and for 30 years captured the imagination of the entire sports world. For 30 years, we all followed Jerry Buss…He would be there for you, your family, the team, for those of us in need, the community…his trust was a given,” said formers Laker coach Pat Riley.
The memorial featured musical interludes from Randy Newman (whose “I Love LA” plays after every home victory), the USC marching band, and broadway star Davis Gaines. Flower arrangements and 10 NBA Championship trophies adorned the stage and surrounded the podium for the event.
The service came one day after an emotional 113-99 win over the Boston Celtics that saw a pre-game memorial video and a short speech from Kobe Bryant. Following Bryant’s words, a spotlight shadowed on the empty seat in the owner’s box formally occupied by Dr. Buss. The Staple Center crowd honored Dr. Buss with a moment of silence before erupting in cheers following the playback of Dr. Buss talking about the Lakers franchise.
When speaking at the memorial service, Bryant had choice words for the current Lakers squad at the memorial when talking about Dr. Buss:
I encourage all of you to look around the room and look at the greatness of one man’s vision. Look at all the players that are here, the coaches that are here. We all have one thing in common in that we all believed in Dr. Jerry Buss. We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season. We’re playing for the memory of Dr. Jerry Buss.
Lakers fans had shown their support for the Buss family and Lakers organization over the past few days, leaving flowers and mementos by the Lakers statues outside of Staples Center. Across the street at LA Live, fans have been writing messages of support on a giant banner featuring a photo of Dr. Buss.
Buss, 80, died Monday morning at Cedars Sinai hospital due to complications stemming from an undisclosed form of cancer. Reports of his illness had been kept quiet during Buss’s 18-month fight with the illness.
The Lakers will sport purple and gold patches with the initials “JB” on the jerseys for the remainder of the season.