Lakers honor Dr. Jerry Buss
Dave McMenamin [ARCHIVE]
ESPNLosAngeles.com
February 21, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant once told Dr. Jerry Buss that he wanted the Los Angeles Lakers owner to be announced at center court so Buss could receive the recognition from the fans he deserved.

Bryant helped deliver some of that recognition to Buss posthumously Wednesday, as the Lakers guard addressed the Staples Center crowd during a moving tribute to the legendary owner before L.A. played their longtime rival Boston Celtics.

"On Monday, we lost who we all know to be the greatest owner in sports," Bryant said. "Ever. He was a brilliant, incredible owner but he was an even better person with a great heart.

"His vision transcended the game and we are all, all spoiled by his vision and his drive to win year, after year, after year.

"Through our years here at Staples Center, the one thing that we always counted on was the great Dr. Jerry Buss overlooking his franchise from his box."

Bryant paused to point to Buss' luxury box that was empty, with a spotlight shining on the owner's seat in the middle of the box throughout the night.

Bryant then asked the crowd to recognize Buss with a moment of silence that lasted 20 seconds. The silent tribute was followed by audio from a Buss interview recorded Feb. 16, 2011.

"The real purpose of what I did was to try to have this city totally involved and identify with it and I wanted that when you think L.A., 'Oh, wait, that's where the Lakers play!' " Buss boomed over the public-address system. "Lakers. Lakers. That's what I wanted."

Bryant's speech was preceded by a video tribute played to the tune of Green Day's "Time of Your Life" that showed photos of Buss as a baby through his years as Lakers owner, hoisting multiple Larry O'Brien NBA championship trophies and getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame while flashing his signature smile.

"These men put their hands together, their souls together and brought me with them," Buss said in the video, the line clipped from his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2010.

Buss' daughter Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel, stood by her first row seat for the ceremony, accompanied by former Lakers forward Kurt Rambis and his wife, Linda.

The video concluded with another quote from Buss' HOF speech -- "Life is good, life is sweet and I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart" -- before the video screen displayed a portrait of the owner who died of cancer Monday at the age of 80, with the years of his life, 1933-2013, alongside it.

"We play basketball, but there are things in life that are important," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game. "This is important. You need to be able to put things in perspective and go out and do your job like everybody else does. I think it was treated in the right way and the players are ready to roll."

D'Antoni said that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed the team Tuesday about the significance of Dr. Buss' death to the franchise.

The Lakers debuted a commemorative "JB" purple and gold circular patch with a black border on the right breast of their uniforms that they will wear throughout the rest of the season.

Outside Staples Center, fans left flowers and notes in honor of Buss by the statue of longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. Well-wishers were also invited to sign one of four massive white banners with Buss' photo displayed in the middle of them across the street at L.A. Live.

Even though the Lakers crowd booed the Celtics loudly during pregame introductions, Boston coach Doc Rivers spoke in reverential tones about Buss before the game.

"He made this a place that everybody wanted to go," Rivers said. "The Lakers went through a long dry spell before he got here. They had the Jerry West years, but he made this a cool place. This is where everybody wanted to, everybody wanted to play. He created it, he really did. He created the Laker Girls, the whole thing. Players take note of that."

The energy in the building before tip-off was palpable, as the crowd helped 16-year old singer Taylor Longbrake make it through the national anthem after she flubbed the lyrics and said, "Oh my gosh," into the microphone when she realized her mistake. Many fans sang the rest of the song with her once she got back on track.

Then there was a game to play, with the Lakers and their 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters hosting the one team in the league with more titles in the Celtics, who have 17.

"The way you got to approach it is just as a tribute to him to go out and play as hard as you can and turn the emotion into something positive," D'Antoni said. "It will be a nice tribute on a sad occasion."

Buss will also be honored with a private memorial service at 3 p.m. PT at the Nokia Theatre in downtown L.A. Speakers expected to eulogize Buss include Bryant, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pau Gasol, James Worthy, West and David Stern.

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