After reading texts and watching video highlights from Jerry Buss' memorial services Thursday at the Nokia Theatre, I just wanted to add a few thoughts. I met Dr. Buss in 1981, or not long before he fired Paul Westhead, appointed Jerry West and Pat Riley as co-coaches, only to capitulate when The Logo said he wanted no part of coaching again and handed the solo duties to Riley.
In the ensuing years, the Lakers have been pure Hollywood, part soap opera, tremendous acting, and unfailing high drama. Think "Downton Abbey" for three-plus decades, not three seasons. Under a stewardship that began in 1979 and culminated in in 10 NBA Championships, Buss' Lakers offered continued entertainment. They have their moments, of course. They screw up with the best of them (Magic as head coach?). But then they recover, and make amends, and they all this in front of one of the world's largest audiences.
Buss, who offered great insight and powerful resistance, by the way, when neighbor Donald Sterling relocated the Clippers to the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1984 - and as we all know in Sacramento, opposed the Maloofs' attempt to relocate the Kings to Anaheim in 2011 - oversaw the best organization in professional sports. There is nothing close, no team nearly as much fun. George Steinbrenner presided over a dynasty and always seemed miserable. Buss presided over a dynasty and cherished the thrill of the chase, and of course, all those titles.
While circumstances affect outcomes in all sports, Buss' success was no accident. He paid his players, hired great people, replaced folks who didn't get the job done. He repeatedly promoted his daughter, Jeanie, because she has long been one of the brightest business minds in sports and entertainment. She tolerated her father's affinity for the young ladies; he re-hired her boyfriend (Phil Jackson) a few months after dumping him because, simply, he was the game's premier coach.
But when I think about Dr. Buss, a one-time chemistry professor who made his millions in the Southern California real estate market, I will most fondly recall his iconclastic teams; those Lakers-Celtics, Bird-Magic matchups in the 1980s; his ability to nurture the brilliance and quirkiness of West; his appreciation for his first rock star coach, Riley; Randy Newman's anthem, "I Love L.A." rocking the old Forum; Southern Cal's marching band and its nightly rendition of the Fleetwood Mac hit, "Tusk"; and mostly, the way the way the organization responded when a devastated Magic Johnson announced in Oct., 1991, that he had contracted HIV.
That was when, in my mind, the Lakers were elevated to a higher realm. At a time when AIDS was a death sentence, when it was a political football even within the NBA, Buss' folks opened the Forum doors. With David Stern's constant supervision and unwavering support, they embraced their superstar and helped educate the public about a contagious, virulent disease. Journalists were welcomed into Mike Dunleavy's locker room. Conversation was encouraged, even elicited. West and the late Chick Hearn sat in the stands, often by themselves, openly crying at times, but never dodging a very sensitive subject. The discussion started in the United States, and continued the following summer in Barcelona.
The Maloofs, who attended the invitees-only ceremonies on Thursday, should have paid closer attention all these years. No one expects owners to be saints. But fans have every right to expect commitment to supportive communities and competent management in the team's business and basketball operations. If Dr. Buss ever contemplated selling the Lakers - and his wealth is down the list among NBA owners these days - there is no doubt incoming owners would have been required to park themselves at Staples Center. As an emotional West said while eulogizing his former boss, "He was a man for all people."
We won't forget.