Jerry Buss' Private Memorial Service Proves To Be "Pure Showtime"
Basketball HOFers MAGIC JOHNSON and JERRY WEST, former NBAer and TNT analyst SHAQUILLE O'NEAL and Lakers G KOBE BRYANT were "among the basketball greats gathered Thursday at an invitation-only memorial service to salute the life and legacy" of late Lakers Owner JERRY BUSS, according to Beth Harris of the AP. The stage at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live 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." Johnson said, ''He didn't like it sad, he wanted it to be fun." Among the other speakers were NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN, Basketball HOFer KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, former Lakers coach PHIL JACKSON, Lakers F PAU GASOL (who spoke in Spanish), and Heat President & former Lakers coach PAT RILEY. Lakers Exec VP/Strategic Development JOHNNY BUSS, the oldest of the six Buss children, "spoke on behalf of the family." He said of 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 also "provided insight into life with his father, who loved travel, wine, poker, books, classical music and movies." Buss said of his father, "He never had to step on anyone to get ahead. He surrounded himself with good people." The speeches were "interspersed with performances, including nine members of the USC band playing 'Amazing Grace.'" Singer RANDY NEWMAN whose "iconic 'I Love LA' anthem is played at every Lakers game, sang his hit 'You've Got a Friend in Me.'" DAVIS GAINES performed a song from "Phantom of the Opera" (AP, 2/22).
FATHER FIGURE: Johnson during the memorial said that Buss "was the perfect business mentor." When Johnson tested positive for HIV, Buss was "more of a father figure than ever." Meanwhile, West "recalled one of his first meetings with Buss as a consultant." West said Buss told him, "I want people to come see a winning basketball team but I want entertainment, very much like a Broadway show." West: "Here was a man who not only changed basketball, he changed all sports. He changed them all. He has left a shadow over the entire sports world" (L.A. TIMES, 2/22). O'Neal said, "He was a visionary. He saw the future before any one of us did" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/22).
ONE LAST SHOW: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes it was a "wonderfully quirky memorial service Thursday for the wonderfully quirky Lakers owner." It was "pure Showtime, an entertaining reflection of Buss' 80 years in all their integrity, generosity, competitiveness and craziness." Stern was "properly describing Buss as 'nothing less than a transformational force in the history of sports.'" There was "much talk of Buss' work ethic and his long hours at the office, until West stood up and clarified." West: "Everyone was saying he had to be the first one to work in the morning. He never went to bed, so how in the hell could he not be the first one there in the morning?" Many other speakers "waxed about the beauty of Buss' loyalty." Meanwhile, the biggest long-term challenge for the Lakers "remains in a front office divided." Neither Lakers Exec VP/Business Operations JEANIE BUSS nor Exec VP/Player Personnel JIM BUSS spoke at the service, but there was "one hint of the rumored plan that Jerry Buss had put into place to help the franchise avoid a potential power struggle." Johnny Buss said, "No one can fill his shoes. We can only do our best to continue with our father's request, guided by an intricate road map that he laid out for us for the next generation" (L.A. TIMES, 2/22). ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote the service was "so, so ... Lakers." That is "the only way to describe it." It was "telling that four people with whom Buss had parted ways during his ownership tenure -- Riley, West, Jackson and O’Neal -- felt compelled to come back and pay homage to him." O’Neal’s presence was the "most fascinating, since his breakup was the most acrimonious" (ESPN.com, 2/21).