Dr. Jerry Buss:

The Oral History of the Greatest Owner in Sports

Dr. Jerry Buss

The Oral History of the Greatest Owner in Sports

Mike Trudell

Lakers Reporter

As the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers from 1979 until he passed away in 2013, Dr. Jerry Buss oversaw one of the greatest stretches in sports and entertainment history.

His beloved Lakers made it to the Finals 16 times – nearly half of his 33 seasons – and won 10 championships while missing the playoffs only twice.

All the while, he inspired fondness and loyalty amongst his family, players, employees and fans.

Many of those people offered their favorite stories about what made Dr. Buss who he was in advance of Dr. Buss night on Feb. 10, 2020.

It began when Dr. Buss purchased his dream.

Dr. Buss Buys the Lakers

Jeanie Buss

Lakers Controlling Owner/President

In the mid to late 1970s, Dr. Buss owned the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis. In 1978, they moved to the Forum from the Sports Arena, and my dad was a big sports fan, so he’d go to Laker games. He noticed for a few years that the owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was not attending Laker games. He realized there was an opportunity there, that perhaps if he could meet with him, he could convince Jack Kent Cooke to sell him the team. Well, at that time, Jack Kent Cooke was going through a divorce, and he moved to Nevada to establish residency in order to process his divorce as a citizen of Nevada, which had different settlement laws. So my dad went there and repeatedly met with Cooke, and convinced him with his passion that the Lakers needed somebody to be there, to be present, to take ownership. He spent two years convincing Cooke to sell him the team, in May of 1979. I was a senior in high school, and my dad would explain it to us kids like, ‘Could you imagine to going to every Laker game? Could you imagine sitting in the front row for every concert? Who’s your favorite band?’ We owned a box at the Forum as a family, so we went to a lot of events, and it was the beginning of him seeing an opportunity and pursuing it with a passion that when you own these kinds of teams, you feel, as an owner, that the team is going to somebody who cares about it as much as you do. And at the time, Cooke owned an NFL team in Washington, and he saw Jerry Buss as a worthy person to carry on with the Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings and the Forum.

Jamaal Wilkes

Lakers Forward (1977-85)

3X Champion, 3X All-Star, Hall of Fame

I first met him at Muhammad Ali’s retirement party at the Forum. I played two years for Mr. Cooke, so I could really see the difference (right away). Immediately when Dr. Buss bought the team, he invited me to the party, and he said, ‘You know Jamaal, if Muhammad won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad.’ There’s a very subtle story there, because what he was saying is, we could both reach out. It wouldn’t just be me reaching out. And that’s how I recollect my relationship with him. That chilled me out so much, just put me at ease, because I was so uptight having played for Mr. Cooke … Dr. Buss was just such a great boss to play for.

Pat Riley

Lakers Head Coach (1981-90)

5X Champion, Hall of Fame

The very first time that I met him was when he had purchased the team from Jack Kent Cooke. I was working with Chick Hearn in the broadcast booth, but I remember meeting him at the Forum and had a very, very light discussion about the real estate business, and then I realized I was renting one of his apartments in Santa Monica, he and Frank Mariani. He said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my building!’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s great, maybe I can get free rent or something like that!’ But I do remember that there was this zest and this absolute excitement and enthusiasm that he had when he bought the Lakers and he became the owner. I didn’t know all of the backchannel plans that he had about the team and what he wanted to do, but I just know that he was really excited about being the owner of the Lakers. And I was happy to be a part of it, because Jack Kent Cooke, as great a businessman as he was, he was tough. He was a little bit more military stylistic of leadership than Jerry was. I’m not saying that Jerry was the opposite, but he was a lot more fun than I think Jack was.

Jerry Buss with Magic Johnson and Pat Riley Jerry Buss with Magic Johnson and Pat

Mychal Thompson

Lakers Forward/Center (1986-91)

2X Champion

I was a young player in Portland, and I knew about Jack Kent Cooke and what his reputation was, but we all heard about this man named Dr. Buss buying the Lakers, Kings and the Forum, and some real estate properties for what was an exorbitant amount of money at the time. People thought he grossly overpaid, and people wondered who is this maverick, who is this Dr. Buss? But then right away, the Lakers started winning championships, and “Showtime” was coined, and little did I know that I’d get a chance to join them years later.

Linda Rambis

Lakers Executive Director

We weren’t always making money; it was a passion for him. He didn’t look at it as, someday this is going to blow up and be this incredibly valued team. It was really his love, his heart. We’d watch Lakers games together before he bought the team, and all he’d talk about was, “Someday I’m gonna own that team.” And (a couple of years later) he did. Buying the Forum, Lakers, Kings and other properties … was the largest sports transaction at that time. He had to liquidate everything, practically, to get it. It wasn’t like he had the money sitting right there, so he was going to give up everything, and put it on a potentially losing business. The NBA wasn’t like what it is today at that time. He was doing it because it was truly his passion. There was purity to that.

Jerry West

Lakers General Manager (1982-2002), 6X Champion

Lakers Guard (1960-74)

NBA Champion, Finals MVP, 14X All-Star, Hall of Fame

When he bought the team, it was more like a dream come true – he told me he always wanted to own the Lakers. When he got a chance to buy it, it was his biggest thrill at that point in time. To watch the franchise grow and see his influence on the Lakers, and more importantly, some of the things he did that teams in the league are still doing. He had a remarkable vision about how he wanted to see this team play. He wanted it to be entertainment mixed in with a great team, and he was fortunate enough that he had a great team.

Magic Johnson

Lakers Guard (1979-91)

5X Champion, 3X Finals MVP, 3X MVP, 12X All-Star, Hall of Fame

The first time I met Dr. Buss was my second time coming to Los Angeles after I was drafted in 1979, because the first time, Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry West and Chick Hearn were the guys I met. When the deal was complete that Dr. Buss bought the Lakers, we had lunch, and we hung out for the whole weekend. We talked about his vision, and all types of things. He was a first-time owner. I was a rookie. We really hit it off. It was really tremendous. He took me to (some parties), and different places, introducing me to people, and it was a great time. Then I went back home, and the next time I saw him was training camp. Every day, we’d just hang out together between practice sessions. We’d usually eat, hang out by the pool and talk after the morning session, and then after the evening session, a lot of times we’d go to dinner together. We just clicked. There was something about both of us. It wasn’t owner-player, it was two guys hanging out. I think he knew, with me being 20 and alone all the way from Michigan, he became a father figure to me. He understood that I needed that, and I would have been lost out here in this big city. From then on, I was at his house every weekend during the season, it seemed like. Or to USC football games. We’d played pool until 2 or 3 in the morning … he loved to play 8 ball, and he was much better than me. And we’d go out and he’d introduce me to some of the really good night clubs at the time during the time that I could go out. Because he found out very quick that I was very serious about winning, and he respected that. Nights after the game, he’d tease me, because we’d go to have dinner at Dan Tanas or somewhere like that, and I’d say, ‘I have to go home, we have practice in the morning.’ And he’d say, ‘That’s why I love you. You’re serious about winning and your craft.’ He understood me. I understood him, because he was a man that loved to have fun, but he was also very competitive at everything. Winning drove both of us. That’s another way we connected.

Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, Jerry Buss, and Phil Jackson Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, Jerry Buss, and Phil Jackson

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Lakers Center (1975-89)

6X Champion, 2X Finals MVP, 6X MVP, 19X All-Star, Hall of Fame

He always treated me very well. We shared a hobby as coin collectors, and Dr. Buss owned some really important coins, and I was aware of that. We had something to talk about immediately, and he was flattered to know that I was aware. He was very, very friendly, and the door was always open. We never had any problems to talk about, except for any games that we might lose. I thought we had a great professional relationship, and over the years I got to know him and be friends with him. Especially after I retired, we spent time together. A lot of good times, and so much success on the court. It was incredible.

James Worthy

Lakers Forward (1982-1994)

3X Champion, Finals MVP, Hall of Fame

Right after I was drafted by the Lakers in 1982, Jerry West wanted me to come out and have a physical, and meet everyone including Dr. Buss. So Jerry picked me up at the airport in his 944 Porsche. I’d never been in a Porsche before. I was with Jerry West, (a.k.a.) Mr. Clutch and going to meet everybody. Later on in the day, Dr. Buss was having a picnic for all his employees. People that worked in the Forum, his gardeners, people who worked in the parking lot … just everyday people. So that was one of the things I noticed about him. He was just really conscious of people around him and respected people that worked for him. But I hadn’t seen him yet. I was just told that he was having this picnic for employees, and how cool that was. So I came to this park, and I was with Jerry West and somebody from the Lakers front office, and I got disconnected from my hosts. So I was just wandering around, and I walked right by this one man who was wearing jeans and maybe an old sports jacket. Kinda rustic. He had a cigarette that he was holding down below his waist, and he would pull on it a little bit, and put it back down. And I walked right by him. I had no idea it was Dr. Buss. I had someone in my mind, me coming from the South, who was going to be really distinguished and have a suit on, and you’d be able to know who the owner was right away as soon as you seen him. And then they walked me back over and said, ‘Here’s Dr. Buss.’ Coming from Tobacco Road, North Carolina, I was like, ‘Damn, this is a cool dude!’ I couldn’t believe he was just down to earth. Really cool. I was a little uptight, and didn’t really know what to expect, so my first impression just totally relaxed me.

Byron Scott

Lakers Guard (1983-93)

3X Champion

My first initial meeting I was kind of thrown back, because he didn’t seem like an owner. He was so cool when he introduced himself, so laid back. He had his jeans on with his sports coat, big smile on his face, open collared shirt. I’d never encountered somebody with that type of money and power to be so easy to talk to. Most people at that level were pretty standoffish. I was taken back by his willingness to be one of the guys, and his openness with his players was very enjoyable to be around.

Tim Harris

Lakers President, Business Operations

Goalkeeper, L.A. Lazers, MISL

The MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League), at the point where I was playing, was propping up soccer in America, and outdrawing NBA teams in certain markets. Dr. Buss was my boss in a completely different way from what happened later. So in 1985, I’m playing for Dr. Jerry Buss, and he’s a legend. The Lakers are on fire. He really, really, really enjoyed the game of soccer. I’m this young guy out of UCLA, and when you first meet him coming into the locker room, and he comes to shake your hand, there’s no greater form of nervousness in this town at that point in time. But that’s how I got to know him and the Buss family.

Stu Lantz

Lakers Television Analyst

He was an incredibly visionary. Dr. Buss saw the Lakers becoming something, more of an entertainment value than just a sports value, and the league has adopted, to a large degree, that same mentality. He was the first to see this league as the entertainment value that it is. And drafting Magic was huge. That helped save this league. The league wasn’t faring that well prior to 1979, for whatever the reasons were, so whether it was Magic, Dr. Buss or a combination of things that coincided with their arrival, it helped save this league and helped pave the way for all of us to do what we do today. I think Dr. Buss always had a plan in life. Not just in the Lakers and what they’d become ... but he had a plan.

Changing the Business of the NBA

A true genius from a business standpoint, Dr. Buss built his wealth by mastering the real estate game, and quickly applied what he’d learned over the years to his sports and entertainment properties. The Lakers were the crown jewel.

Jeanie Buss

My dad changed the landscape of the NBA in terms of how he thought about the business. When he bought the team, there were literally two prices: the downstairs and the upstairs. He, with his real estate background, realized that people would pay just like for a house on the beach. There was prime real estate, and it was about location, location, location. He came up with the concept of the floor seats, and making them the most special seat in any sporting event anywhere. Kind of re-thinking the economics of ticket sales.

Tim Harris

When Dr. Buss first bought the team, he looked at what we were charging for floor seats, and knew based on anecdotal data of talking to people that with a young Magic Johnson and this team, he could charge more. There was no secondary market, but he knew that he was leaving money on the table and he was under indexing for certain price points. He knew that he had this hot team in the Lakers in the early years of Showtime, but the Kings were always a tough sell. So he created the Senate seats program … sort of the precursor to the club suites program. He basically created premium seating, and nobody else was doing this stuff at the time.

Jeanie Buss

When he bought the Forum, it was called the Forum. It didn’t have naming rights like Staples Center. He was the first one to see that opportunity to sell the naming rights of the building, which really was an asset to the company, because now instead of going to Forum, you were going to the Great Western Forum, and Great Western was one of the big banks in Southern California at the time. He was one of the first people to do it, and now it’s commonplace. I remember when he explained it to me … we all knew Wrigley Field, where the Cubs played. But Wrigley was also the name of the family who owned the team, and also the name of their chewing gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. They didn’t sell the naming rights, they (used their name). In other words, how offensive could it be? Some people said, ‘How dare you, you can’t make it commercial.’ But yes. You can. And he did. It was an important economic trend, another thing that he identified, and brought the NBA into more prominence.

Tim Harris

Dr. Buss liked to go the horse races at Hollywood Park, and he was great at picking winners. He’d meet his friends there, and some of his friends were executives at Great Western Bank. So they’re chatting one time, and he says, ‘Hey, would you like to put your name on the building?’ They say, ‘How would that work?’ Dr. Buss says, ‘Well, you’re going to pay me, we’d agree upon a price, and it would become the Great Western Forum.’ And boom. Naming rights. It’s unbelievable what he did. It’s the first thing you do now when you’re going to build a building.

Magic Johnson

The Forum Club … there’s never been a hotter night club within a building. He created new revenue streams; that’s why everybody has a club now. Dr. Buss created that. One time, we shook everybody up. He had Hugh Hefner come with all the girls, and then I invited Michael Jackson. And that’s what Dr. Buss wanted, to create a place where it could be magical, almost like Disneyland. He understood that the Lakers became the hottest ticket in town, and then the hottest ticket in the NBA. The bigger, the bolder, the better.

Lisa Estrada

Lakers VP, Building and Operations

Former Laker Girl and Director, Laker Girls

Dr. Buss actually started in his first season, 1979-80, with a combination of USC and UCLA pom girls, and the USC band. Obviously he went to USC, and he loved the band. The next season, they wanted more of a team, so they called them the Golden Girls, and they had big pom poms. Then in his third season owning the team, they ended up calling them the Laker Girls, and established a dance team. He really looked at it as entertainment. He wanted people to come to the Forum and be entertained, not just by the basketball team and the talent on the court, but leave the arena thinking, ‘That was really fun, I had a great time.’

Inagural season of the Laker Girls Inagural season of the Laker Girls

Jeanie Buss

We all know that Dr. Buss was the first to bring in a dance team, and he felt it was equal opportunity. Because when the Lakers were playing, the men got the stage and the platform. When they were taking a break, let the women have center stage. Let the women be the show, get the attention. He really thought about things like that, that it was equal opportunity, and if men could be the stars, then women could be the stars too. I think that’s important in this day and age, when people are talking about dance teams, but he really saw it as these talented dancers deserve an audience, and now every team in the NBA has a dance team.

Magic Johnson

He was a wheeler and dealer. He understood the brand of the Lakers, and that first time he sat down with me in 1979, he said, ‘I want to make the Lakers a household name.’ Basically, he wanted Showtime. And that’s what he, that’s what we, created. USC Band. Laker Girls. Later on, Dancing Barry. It became a happening. That was his vision. He had thought about it. It didn’t just happen. He was in the entertainment business. It wasn’t an accident, and the Laker brand exploded. And how he conducted business, it was always, hey, ‘I’m holding all the cards. All these companies want to do business with the Lakers? OK … but I don’t just want your money, I also want you do this, this and this to build our brand.’ He cut deals that were unheard of in those days, and I witnessed that.

Lisa Estrada

Not only did Dr. Buss want a dance team to entertain on the court during halftime and quarter breaks, but he also wanted to show that there were talented young ladies who are great brand ambassadors. When I took over, he and I chatted about getting the girls out in the community because the players weren’t always able to. It was an extension of the brand, a way to reach Los Angeles. And his business smarts (also kicked in), and the Laker Girls got branded through Reebok. We had Reebok down our sides, on the dance top, on jackets and everything. Later it was Miller Genuine Draft.

Linda Rambis

He took great pride in having a holiday party and distributing holiday gifts to the corporate clients and all of his close circle, and he’d painstakingly, himself, go through everything to pick everything that was meaningful that he thought people would really love. It seems like that’d be something that would be below his pay grade, but it wasn’t. So he lined things up, and I’d get samples, and we’d talk it through, and he’d say, ‘Oh! They’ll like this! They’ll like that!” Bit by bit, he’d put his personal love in every selection and make sure that at least during the Holidays, all the people that meant something to him got something meaningful. He was an incredibly brilliant person, but he had great heart and caring for the people around him.

Magic Johnson

He taught me everything. He was my mentor. All those times we were together, I shared with him, I wanted to be more than just a basketball player. My dream was to be a businessman after I was done. That’s why we got together so much. I was picking his brain, and he was helping me every time. He was so quick. It was amazing. And he would tell me where to go get the information. When I wanted to get into the theatre business, he was the one who connected me with everybody. He was amazing with his connections and who he knew, and now, I just had to put the work in, and I did that. If I just followed the blueprint he laid out for me, I was going to be successful, and I did.

Byron Scott

I knew he and Magic were really close. He brought Magic in, and they formed a bond right away. From my standpoint, when I got in, Magic had been in the league for a few years and they were really close. Magic being Mr. Inquisitive, he wanted to know about the business aspect of basketball and life in general. I thought their relationship was great. Very unique to have an owner who took a player under his wing and was really teaching him stuff outside of basketball to help him when the game was over. I thought they had a great relationship that seemed to blossom until the day that Dr. Buss passed away.

Mychal Thompson

We used to call him Magic Buss, or Earvin Buss. Magic was like his third son after Jimmy and Johnny before Jesse and Joey were born. We thought it was great. Magic was worth every accolade or attention he got, because he carried us. There was no jealousy at all that he had that kind of relationship … and Magic would surround himself with Dr. Buss and captains of industry. Magic was way ahead of the game, and now Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and some of these guys have been (following in those footsteps) in business.

Showtime

With his franchise point guard at the helm, Dr. Buss saw to the creation of “Showtime,” an all-time great sports dynasty that saw the Lakers go to the NBA Finals nine times in 12 years, amassing five championships with their owner front and center.

Jerry West

Dr. Buss was open to all of the discussions. He would listen to things. My relationship with him, I think, became so close as I’d try to explain to him how important each position was and what you would expect from those different positions, and how they’d fit. We had a bunch of ideal guys – Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy – next to Earvin. At the end of the day, it was almost like a perfect puzzle. We had a bunch of guys who were great guys that all knew their roles, and they weren’t out seeking attention for themselves.

Tim Harris

He completely got something that all of us take for granted: athletes love entertainers, and entertainers love athletes. That was part of the floor seat program. Dr. Buss knew his team needed more wins than losses, but he also knew they needed to entertain. Magic was perfect for that. And then you’ve got this team that’s running. You’ve got this really good looking coach in Pat Riley who’s completely Hollywood. Showtime was on fire, And now Hollywood is coming out in droves to see the Lakers.

Jamaal Wilkes

After the championship in 1980, it was like the rocket just took off.

Magic Johnson

After we won our first championship in 1980, we hugged, and said, ‘Can you believe this? Rookie owner, rookie player and we did it. Our first year!’ And then we went to the hotel and we danced all night. Dr. Buss was one of those guys. He loved the players. He loved being around the guys. He wanted everybody to be together, and he was right in the middle of us. He was that dude. That was a big thing for both of us. I had to prove that I could play in the NBA. He had a lot to prove: a lot of people looked at him, because he didn’t wear a suit and tie, he came in as a different owner. He put his imprint on the league fast, and then we win the championship too? Everybody was like, who is this dude? But we were able to do it together. Every championship, we’d go celebrate away from everybody. That first one, we went to Palm Springs. All the other times, we’d go to Las Vegas. He loved to play cards, and we’d talk about the season, and then what we could do to get the team better. Dr. Buss never sat and waited a month or two. He loved to jump on it. We’d celebrate, have the parade, have a party, and then he’d go to Vegas. And he’d say, ‘I want you to come to Vegas in a week.’ Everywhere we went, everybody would holler our names. That’s one thing different about Dr. Buss different from owners back in the day – he was a celebrity too. People knew him. If it wasn’t for Dr. Buss, there’d be no Jerry Jones. Dr. Buss was the first celebrity owner in all of sports. People would say, ‘What about George Steinbrenner?’ The difference between Steinbrenner, Dr. Buss was loved by everybody. You could say he and Steinbrenner were the first to grow probably bigger than the franchise.

1980 Championship Los Angeles Lakers 1980 Championship Los Angeles Lakers

Bill Bertka

Lakers Assistant Coach, Scout and Consultant (1967-74, 1981-present)

10X Champion

I remember being in the Finals against Philadelphia, and we were at the hotel bar of the team hotel. Pat Riley, myself, Dr. Buss and one of his friends. Dr. Buss said how proud he was of us to be there in the Finals, and it was just a nice moment.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I remember the first game that we played in Michigan*, at the Silver Dome, and it was a home game for us. Dr. Buss was there, and Earvin’s family was there, and it was just very special. That’s when I got to meet Magic’s family. Magic’s mom was a Seventh Day Adventist, and they have similar dietary restrictions as Muslims, and she was aware of my faith, so she would cook for me and take care of me when I was on the road and we’d cut through and play in Detroit. These were special parts of the relationships between our teammates and management and everything. It all started to gel at that point. I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome. Magic’s family is like this, and here we are winning all these games. It was everything that you would hope for in a new teammate that’s going to make a significant contribution to the team. That confluence doesn’t happen very often, and Dr. Buss was very much able to get with the moment and enjoy the moment. His vision really helped make these moments possible. His vision inspired us and gave us the OK to be, sometimes, and that’s pretty cool.
*Jan. 11, 1980: the Lakers won 123-100.

Bill Bertka

During those years, we would always go to Hawaii for training camp, and Dr. Buss would really enjoy when we’d have a team dinner at the beginning of camp at Kobe’s Japanese Steak House. It was a nice event, because he’d ask every player and every coach to say a few words, and it was a nice atmosphere.

Pat Riley

It was Jerry West and Jerry Buss who opened the door for me, especially Dr. Buss, because I think Dr. Buss at that time, from what I’ve heard, and if you go back and ever look at that press conference from when there was a coaching change, he saved my basketball life, or re-directed it in a way that I never realized that I was going to be where I am today. And so, when I became an assistant coach because of Jack McKinney’s injury, and then all of a sudden I became the head coach on an interim basis, and Jerry Buss thinking and probably speaking to Jerry West about, ‘I’m going to turn over a $100 million asset to a guy who’s never, ever coached … and Jerry (West) and I had a good relationship, but I don’t think he thought that I had the chops to really be a head coach. Luckily that first year the players, in spite of my lack of experience, we won the championship and the rest is history. But Jerry West and Jerry Buss nurtured me, they mentored me. Dr. Buss, many nights after the games where he’d come down to the locker room after everybody cleared out. He liked to talk hoops. He and I would sit there drinking rum and cokes, talking about strategy, talking about the game. And he would wander off into other aspects of life, and he was so smart, and so brilliant, so well read in a lot of different areas that it was truly intriguing for me at that time, unbeknownst to me what was going on, that I was getting the education of a lifetime as a head coach and also as a man.

Jerry West

Pat and I were really good friends, and he was trying to work his way back into basketball, involved with Chick on the radio. Then due to (certain circumstances), Jerry wanted us to be co-coaches. I had been a coach for three years, and I told him no, this is not something I should do. It’s not good for me. I expect too much from the players, and the way I interact with players is terrible, it’s not who I am and I don’t want to do it. So he asked me and Pat if we’d be co-coaches, and I said I’d consider it for a month. We had the press conference, and I said I’m going to be here with Pat for a month, and then Pat’s going to be the head coach. I guess it took everyone by surprise, but actually it worked out great for him, great for the Lakers, and he went on to produce some championship teams here in Los Angeles.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Pat learned his job on the fly. He went from playing, to (working with) Chick, to assistant coach to a head coach in what, two and a half years? I wouldn’t ever want to try that. Pat did a great job … good basketball mind, and he had the work ethic to achieve that.

Bill Bertka

Dr. Buss used to come down to the locker room after every game, starting in the 1981-82 season. He’d ask me a lot of questions about how we played, what I thought and so forth. It was a ritual. One of his favorite comments always used to be, ‘Ain’t nothin’ like winning!’ So that’s one of my vivid memories. A lot of times if I didn’t see him in the locker room, we went up to the press room at the Forum, and he’d be there. He used to always say, ‘Now Bill, you go ahead and tell me what you think, and then you listen to what I have to say. And he really wanted me to listen.’ He made good observations about the game, and personnel and so forth. He asked a lot of questions about defense, how we were defending this or that. I used to get a big kick out of saying, ‘Our defense is a switching, sliding, sluffing, man-to-man with zone principals.’ And he would laugh. I’d say, ‘I call it the smorgasbord defense … a little bit of everything.’

Bill Bertka

There was a time in the early 1980’s when Dr. Buss would ask me, ‘Who’s going to be the most improved team in the league this year by the greatest number of games.’ He’d say, ‘We’ll bet a dinner on this.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll bet with you.’ So each year, we’d both pick a team, and I won for three straight years. He got a big kick out of that, and by the fourth season, he won. He said, ‘I want you to take me to dinner at this real fancy restaurant with some friends.’ I said, ‘I can’t afford that! I thought it was a 1-on-1 dinner! I can’t do that!’ He said, ‘Well that’s what I had in mind.’ I said, ‘I can’t pick up the tab for a whole group of people!’ And that was the end of our betting routine.

Byron Scott

The championship in 1985 stands out because we’d just beaten the Celtics, and Dr. Buss was as proud as he’s ever been of any team. There’s a picture I have in my office where guys are grabbing his shoulders, throwing champagne on him, I’m messing his hair up. We all felt very comfortable around him because he treated us all as human beings. He truly cared about how we were doing, how our families were doing. He was just one of those type of guys.

Lakers celebrate their 1985 Championship over the Celtics Lakers celebrate their 1985 Championship over the Celtics

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

It was one of my finest moments. That was wonderful, to get my game back in gear for the next five games (after the Memorial Day Massacre). I was a dominant player in Games 2 through 6, and we got over the hump finally. We were the only team to win a world championship in Boston Garden other than the Celtics. That was so special. Dr. Buss was there with us. We all held the trophy together. Smiled and laughed, drank champagne and went to the White House. Some of it is a blur, but that’s what I remember. Dr. Buss shared it with us in great style. Kurt Rambis doing his usual mischief, (having fun) with Dr. Buss. It was like family. Jerry (West) was so happy. I think that was the only ring that he wore, when we beat Boston the first time. We won that as a group. The whole franchise. And that resonated all the way back to Los Angeles.

Magic Johnson

In 1985, before we left (L.A. after Game 5), I told the dudes only take one set of clothes. There’s not going to be a 7th game. And we all took one set. We knew when we got on that plane and we were going to beat the Celtics in Game 6. And when Dr. Buss said that, that was all our thinking. We were playing for not just ourselves but everybody. Pat Riley had a great speech about that. It started with Dr. Buss, and we were all upset about 1984. We wanted it so bad. We made it a mission to play them again in 1985, to prove to ourselves and the world that we could beat them. He just really capped it off and said what we all were thinking. And then we went and celebrated together again. He was big on that.

Mitch Kupchak

Lakers Forward/Center (1981-86); Lakers GM (2000-2017)

2X Champion (player); 5X Champion (GM)

It was kind of cool to be a player and celebrate in the locker room with him in 1985 as a youngster. And then 25 years later, to be able to celebrate at a different stage in my life with him again (2010). Kind of a unique thing, against the same team (Boston). I remember his comments in the locker room, you can look it up, about removing a certain sentence in the English language. He was with Brent Musberger after the game with the trophy in his hand, and he was shaking it: ‘This has removed the most odious sentence in the English language … It can never again be said that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics.”

He just shook the trophy in that tiny little locker room in Boston. That’s probably the most I’ve ever seen him animated. He was not nearly as animated in the other championships as he was in that one, for obvious reasons.

Pat Riley

He would call me in some days and he’d say ‘Hey, hey, be a coach. Coach him! Don’t be afraid of him just because he’s Kareem, just because he’s Magic. Coach him. I sense that you’re deferring to these guys a little bit.’ Back in those days you could actually raise your voice to players and they’d understand. Today, you can’t. And when (my wife) Chris and I would have dinner with Dr. Buss, he was very gracious with Chris. So it was really a family. Jeanie (Buss) was just 19 years old, or 18 years old. We really were a family, and we were intact as a team, and all the families were invested. There was nothing too distract them, the players, and the family, because it really was all about the Lakers, all about preparing for the games, all about having fun in the games, Showtime, all about having fun in Los Angeles, all about having fun as families. I can remember so many of the player’s wives and the players, Dr. Buss, we’d have dinners and we’d all come together. There was no social media, nothing to really distract you. Once you dealt with the media, you get on with your life. There was a lot of pressure, but Dr. Buss I think took a lot of that pressure off of us. He knew we had a great team, and he dealt with the good and the bad. He wanted to win every single year, but he also knew that was impossible. Unless you were John Wooden, you couldn’t win every year, so he had some realistic expectations about some things that could happen even to dynastic teams.

Dr. Jerry Buss with Pat and Chris Riley Dr. Jerry Buss with Pat and Chris Riley

A.C. Green

Lakers Forward (1985-93, 1999-2000)

3X Champion

I remember being at the Forum in Inglewood in 1985 in my rookie year, meeting Dr. Buss and him saying ‘Let’s have lunch one day.’ Time goes by until you decide, ‘I’m going to take him up on that.’ So we arranged a lunch, midweek after a practice, and went up to his office, and we had a real, genuine, 1-on-1 conversation talking about life itself outside of basketball. His passions, what brought him to the mindset of wanting to own a team and what he wants from a team, and then just L.A.; it was an all-new environment for me, and he wanted to make sure I knew about it and understand as much as I possibly could. He made sure they had the kind of food I wanted, and he was really attentive to the little details to make sure it was a comfortable environment to me. It was a father/son environment. Just so, so cool.

Mychal Thompson

In the summer of 1986, I had no idea that I was about to be traded to San Antonio. I’d been with the Blazers for eight years, and almost came to accept the fact that we couldn’t beat the Lakers, with Magic and Kareem and Jamaal Wilkes, and then James Worthy and everybody comes in. So I played in San Antonio for about 4.5 months and had no idea the Lakers were interested in me. On Feb. 13 of 1987, I found out from the Spurs trainer that I had been traded to the Lakers. I thought he was kidding. Have you ever seen anybody win the lottery? That was my reaction. While I was in the Spurs locker room, I was like, ‘OK, that’s cool,’ on the outside. But inside it was the 4th of July, with fireworks. I was finally going to join the team I grew up loving in the Bahamas as a kid, from afar. A few days later, the first time I met Dr. Buss was at the Forum Club, after a game. He was as down to earth and cool as everybody said he was. Really low key and very friendly.

Stu Lantz

The first time I met him was in 1987 after I was hired, and Dr. Buss said, ‘You come with a good recommendation … Chickie Baby has recommended you highly. I need to say no more.’ I thought, this is the way it should be. This is the way owners should operate. When you hire someone and they meet your qualifications, let them do their job, and go from there. He always was that kind of an owner.

Mychal Thompson

Our 1987 team was just loaded, so we expected to win every game in the playoffs. You walk into the locker room and you see three Hall of Famers on your side, plus one of the best defenders of all time in Michael Cooper, and a great coach, and you can’t help but feel that way. We were so confident. The Western playoffs were predictable, and we won pretty easily*. The Finals were tough, though, against Boston. When we won Game 4 in the Garden, that was the big difference. I remember the locker room celebration with Dr. Buss after we won Game 6 in L.A., and he was just like the rest of us … sitting at the bar just talking and kibitzing. Very casual. Very happy.
*L.A. won 3-0 against Denver, 4-1 against Golden State and 4-0 against Seattle.

Worthy, Riley, Magic, Cooper, and Buss Celebrate the 1987 Title Worthy, Riley, Magic, Cooper, and Buss Celebrate the 1987 Title

James Worthy

There was another interesting time back home in North Carolina when I was watching the draft on TV, and nobody had been talking about me being traded, and I hadn’t heard any rumors or anything. I was just sitting there. And they said, ‘Now the Dallas Mavericks come up.’ They said, ‘Word is that the Lakers may trade James Worthy to Dallas for Roy Tarpley, a couple other players and a draft pick’. And then at the end of that, they said someone talked to Magic (Johnson), and Magic approved the trade. That’s all I heard. And I was really just flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was just starting to play well, starting to blend in. So a sports writer for the Los Angeles Herald named Frank Grady, he got ahold of me, and I was really still upset and emotional and I just went ballistic. I was like, ‘Listen, I haven’t talked to anybody from the Lakers organization, no one has called me, I don’t know if it’s true.’ He said, ‘Well, we think it’s true, we’ve talked to Jerry West.’ I said, ‘Well you know what, I don’t know who the manager is of this team. I don’t know if it’s Jerry West, or if it’s Magic, I don’t know what’s going on.’ I just couldn’t believe it. I’d have at least expected a phone call or something. But I do remember saying ‘I don’t know who management is.’

So I got back to L.A., and Dr. Buss called me in his office, and he’s like, look, ‘This is a business, this is the way it goes, we don’t have to tell you.’ I said, ‘I at least expect a phone call.’ He said ‘I understand you’re upset, it was taken out of context.’ Of course, I had to go talk to Magic too, and Magic said ‘They’d have to give up a lot more to get James Worthy.’ You know how that goes. Trying to clear the air. But one things I remember that stood out to me, as nice as Dr. Buss was, he was really a good owner … but he looked at me and said, ‘Look, I understand you’re upset. You have a right to express yourself.’ He took a drag of his cigarette, and he said, ‘But when you say management … that’s me.’ And he didn’t say anything after that. I just looked at him. And I knew, don’t talk about management. Don’t talk about the owner. That was a lesson learned.

Michael Cooper

Lakers Guard (1978-90)

5X Champion, Defensive Player of the Year

One story showed how appreciative he was for the work that he did, and for playing hard for the city of Los Angeles. My biggest concern was being traded every year. So in 1987, we win the championship, and I win Defensive Player of the Year. I get this call, and (am told) Dr. Buss wants to see you. This is two days after the parade and everything. So, I’m like, ‘Oh boy, here it is,’ because I knew all trades had to go through him. I’m sitting there wondering what the hell is going on. I get up, I go there at 10 a.m. to his office (at the Forum) and they tell me I have to wait, Dr. Buss is in a meeting with Jerry West. So I’m sitting there waiting, and at 10:30 a.m., I go in. He had a huge, beautiful office with all kinds of knick knacks and stuff like that. I have my head down, and he says, ‘Coop, you know it was a great year for us, a lot of people didn’t think that we could get this done, but here we are finally and we did it.’ So I said, ‘Doc, what team am I going to?’ He goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ I go, ‘Doc, what team am I going to? Am I being traded?’ He says, ‘We’re not trading you, what are you talking about?’ So we start chitchatting, and talking about other things, and finally he says, ‘Coop you know what, I got some other meetings I have to have, but I just want to let you know there’s something for you at the tunnel.’ So I go, ‘OK, this is it.’ I figured Jerry (West) or whoever the other team was at the tunnel at the Forum. Back then, you could drive in right off the street. So before I leave, he gives me an envelope, and he says, ‘Give this to the person that’s down there.’ So I go down there and give it to them, and there are six cars lined up there. Dr. Buss calls down there, and he says, ‘Coop did you get your thing.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Dr. Buss had given me a brand new Mercedes * with six miles on it for me winning Defensive Player of the Year. That’s how generous, and how giving and how much – I don’t want to say a fan – he was a true, true owner of the game. That showed me what he was all about … to me, he was the best owner.
*It was a Mercedes Benz 420 in teal, a color that nobody else had.

A.C. Green

Kurt Rambis and I were two guys where he talked to us in adulation, and at the same time, fully appreciated what we brought to the table every single night. That helped motivate you to want to keep doing that. It was cool knowing that he appreciated those little things, that effort. In any industry, when your boss says you’re doing a good job, that’s what you want to hear. That’s the affirmation you really want. It’s one thing from your colleagues, it’s another when it’s your boss.

Byron Scott

In 1988, winning for the second straight year and fulfilling the prophecy of Pat Riley (guaranteeing a repeat) was a special year … but that year was so hard. When he said that on the podium at the Forum, we were just trying to celebrate the previous title, but he knew what he was doing. He knew we’d thrive under that pressure. But it was one of the toughest things I’ve encountered physically, mentally and emotionally. And I know when it was all done, Dr. Buss was just very proud. I remember my son Thomas jumping in my arms, and he was five or six years old, and I was so tired, I could barely lift him. He was always sitting behind the bench during games and was such a basketball junkie, he just loved being around. I don’t remember a whole lot about the podium when Dr. Buss accepted the championship, but I do remember that Kareem stuck a towel in Pat Riley’s mouth so he wouldn’t say we’d win it again next year.

Pat Riley

The 11 years that I was coaching as an assistant and head coach, that team went to the NBA Finals eight or nine times and we won five championships, probably should have won two more. That team experienced dynastic characteristics. We won big. We had some tumultuous losses. We reached our natural peak as a team in ’87, ’88 and ’89. I thought we were at our very, very best even though we got beat by the Pistons on that 3-peat effort, we were undefeated going into the Finals until Magic and Byron got hurt. But I remember after 1985 when I was negotiating my contract. I didn’t really have an agent at the time. My contract is up, we’d just beaten the Celtics in Boston, everybody was happy. Dr. Buss was happy. I was happy. I remember him calling me into his office, and we sat and we chatted for 10 minutes, and then there was a piece of paper that he had on his desk. He had something written on it, but it was turned over. At the end of the conversation he pushed that over, and he said, ‘What I want to do Pat, is to take care of you and to be fair with you.’ So he pushed the number towards me, and I turned it over and I said, ‘That’s more than fair, Dr. Buss.’ Shook his hand, and we had a deal on a new 3-year contract. He was always like that. He would surprise you. ‘Hey Pat, come on down and let’s have a talk.’ The next thing I know, there’s a number in front of me with more money than I could ever dream of making in my life. That’s how he was. He was a very, very, very generous man. I thank him for not telling Jerry West, ‘No, I don’t want him, I want you to find somebody else.’

In any industry, when your boss says you’re doing a good job, that’s what you want to hear.

A.C. Green

Jerry West

I think when you have success, it’s just different. There becomes a bigger trust by an owner, a greater dependency on the people whom you’re working closely with. We didn’t have 10 people doing it. We had a few. Very few. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d be in his office talking about basketball, life, and also he was always accessibly when I needed him when something important came up. It was a great relationship for a number of years.

Bill Bertka

In 1989, he gave me a five-year contract, and they hadn’t even hired the head coach yet. He said, ‘I want to do something for you for what you’ve done over the 1980’s.’ I was just an assistant coach, with that kind of contract. He wanted me to be the highest paid assistant in the NBA. That was an absolutely incredible gesture on his part, which I always appreciated, to say the least.

Stu Lantz

He had a home in San Diego, where I live, and we used to go to training camp in Hawaii just about every year, and a couple times we were on the same flight heading over from San Diego. I remember once getting a math, or maybe I should call it a business lesson. I had always wanted to know, ‘How did you work the deal with Magic to sign him to a 25-year, 25-million-dollar contract?’ And he gave me how easy it was, how he took this and put it in an annuity somewhere else, and so on. It was amazing how he had it all down.

Pat Riley

After I took the job with the Knicks, Dr. Buss called me on the phone and asked if I was in L.A., and he wanted to have dinner with (my wife) Chris and I. This is a year after I’d left, and I remember we had dinner up on Sunset Boulevard, and I’d signed this humongous contract, or at that time it was, and he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Read my lips, do you realize how much money that is?’ He tried to put things in perspective as to what I was about ready to do in New York, and what they were going to pay me, and that I deserved it, I earned it, everything that I’d done in Los Angeles he was proud of, and he was proud that Chris and I could go to New York and start our careers over again there. Throughout my tenure away from the team, I’d send him a note every time they won a championship. I’d run into him in Los Angeles at various places and said hello. We kept in touch that way. And then when I came down to Miami, it was a whole new world for me down here. We had a genuine relationship and respect for one another, because I was there with him at the time he bought his dream, and it was mine too. His dream was to own the Lakers, my dream was just to be a part of it, and we became part of a team that goes down in history, and then he built another one when he got Shaq and Kobe. Then he won another five championships

Gary Vitti

Head Athletic Trainer (1984-2016)

8X Champion

A few times a year, especially if Dr. Buss traveled with the team, we’d sit down and he’d ask my opinion about certain things with the team, which I really appreciated his confidence in me. And especially on airplanes, he’d always ask me what I was reading, because he was an avid reader. He’d recommend books for me to read. He was the first one who recommended “Angels and Demons,” before it became a really big hit. It had just come out, and somehow he got his hands on it, and wanted to know my thoughts on it, especially because he knew I was Italian and I was raised Roman Catholic. If I was offended by the book, or what my feelings were. And he always wanted to know what my favorite book was, and I told him it was “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” He said, ‘That’s interesting, because I knew Irving Stone’, the author. Dr. Buss told me how (Stone) came up with the title. He not only was an avid reader, he knew some of the great authors, as well.

Joey Buss

Vice President, Research and Development; President/CEO, South Bay Lakers

In the late 1980’s, we were living in Encinitas, California, and my father was home with a family friend, and they needed to go watch the Lakers game against Boston, so they locked themselves up in his bedroom. They watched the game and came out cheering and smiling, and I asked what’s happening, and he said, ‘We’re getting ice cream!’ I was excited to have the ice cream … that’s probably when becoming a Lakers fan began for me.

Michael Cooper

The fact that he was still one of us in a sense, because it was all about him having a good time, and if we met him at any certain point, he’d always invite us over if we were at the same club or something. That’s how he was. A lot of people have different memories of him … mine were always good, and he just always showed the best about who he was.

Michael Cooper and James Worthy getting back on defense Michael Cooper and James Worthy getting back on defense

James Worthy

We didn’t plan to meet, but after work one time, I stopped at Dan Tana’s by myself. I just wanted some of that Salisbury steak and a good meal. I stopped in there, and Dr. Buss walked in. And of course I went to greet at him and sat at his table until his guests got there. He was waiting on some people to come, so we just sat there, and it was right after retirement, and he talked about how appreciative he was of me being a Laker and the three championships. He talked about beating the Celtics. It was really vivid and authentic. It wasn’t like I was negotiating for a contract, or I was currently playing, or he was looking for any ideas about other players. It was just really cool. He bought me dinner. It was about how thankful he was to me for helping to enhance his brand. It was a really intimate moment.

Vlade Divac

Lakers Center (1989-96, 2004-05)

1X All-Star

In my rookie year, my first meeting with Dr. Buss, I didn’t speak English. We took a little bit longer to know each other, but he was great for me and for my family. Having him around, you always felt support. Coming from Yugoslavia, I had some issue with military service, and there was an issue there that Dr. Buss made sure to let me know he was behind me and my family no matter what. That meant a lot to us at that particular time, because it was a very difficult time, uncertain. Am I going to have to go back to serve the army? He was there for us.

And I remember a nice gesture from him, when I signed my extension during my third year, and I had to have a back surgery. There was a clause in the contract where the doctor had to give the green light because of my back, to have a contract valid, and Dr. Buss didn’t even wait for the doctors. He was like, ‘The contract is good. Don’t worry about it, kid. Just go out there and play.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When Earvin announced he was HIV positive, it was a tough day. I was happy to see the way that Dr. Buss and the franchise stuck by Earvin. And Earvin made the best of it. That’s pretty good.

Joey Buss

Some of my earliest memories were sitting courtside and seeing Magic come back from the HIV diagnosis, and him getting thrown out in one of his first games back. We were all super excited to see him play, and one of the referees threw him out early on for arguing calls. I remember being bummed with all my friends that we weren’t going to be able to see “Magic Is Back,” as it was being marketed at the time.

Kobe, Shaq, and the Showtime Era

After a decade of competitive teams that weren’t yet contenders, Dr. Buss and Jerry West signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal, and traded for teenager Kobe Bryant, in 1996, then eventually brought Phil Jackson in to set up the next run of Lakers championships.

Jeanie Buss

Magic Johnson had to retire early, sooner than we thought, and the team stayed competitive through the early and mid 90’s, but my dad really, really wanted to get back to the winning ways. So he went to Jerry West, and said, we’ve got to get somebody to come and get us back to winning. And Jerry West pulled off the biggest free agent signing there ever was when he brought Shaquille O’Neal in 1996.

Jerry West

It was probably the only time I felt really stressed with the Lakers. Afterwards, I had to go to the hospital for three days. I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. The one (free agent) that was really the star on top of the Christmas tree was Shaquille O’Neal. Before that we had the (NBA) Draft, and we traded Vlade Divac, and we got back a player that frankly I thought was the best player in the Draft (Kobe Bryant). We got something new, but we also got something that even if we didn’t get Shaquille, we got a draw. If you have a star, one of the most important assets of that person is will people pay to see him play. I felt, eventually, people would come out and see (Kobe) play. And what Jerry Buss always wanted to accomplish was to have one of those players on his team, the Showtime part of it. It’s not only a game, it’s entertainment. And Kobe was going to be one of them, we thought.

Shaquille and I started to talk over the phone, and we sorta became friends. He’d call me every once in a while. At the end of the day, I said, ‘I think we have better players around you here than you do in Orlando. I know you may not believe that, but trust me, we do. And we drafted a kid who we think is going to be phenomenal.’ I told him when I saw him in college at LSU: ‘The day I saw you, I went and told our owner, Jerry Buss, he has to wear a Laker uniform one day.’ In the process of this thing, I said, ‘Jerry, this is going to really be costly. It’s going to be completely out of line with what people have ever made in this league.’ One day you felt he was coming, another you didn’t … finally, Shaq says, ‘If you can do this financially, I’ll come.’ So I called Jerry Buss, and I asked, ‘Jerry can we do this?’ He said yes. I gave him Jerry’s number. He called Jerry, and it was done.

Stu Lantz

Jerry West called it the Shaq Diet. He lost some weight worrying about whether he was going to be able to convince the big fella to come West. Because the Lakers threw everything into the pot, anticipating and hoping to be able to acquire Shaq. They traded their starting center for a guard. There was a lot of worry on the part of Jerry West. Back then, (player movement) on that scale was not something that happened that often … I think Dr. Buss’ mindset played into it a lot. He gave the OK to pursue it. His vision that, ‘I’m going to get this big guy, and we’re going to go from there.’ He was very positive, and his dreams were never unrealistic, and set the tempo for the franchise to keep moving forward.

Jerry West

I didn’t think we were going to get a chance to draft Kobe. I thought he’d go in the top three or four. The only way for us to change was to do something drastic. And I offered Vlade Divac to everyone, a starting center. Finally, during the draft, Charlotte took him, and we were able to acquire Kobe’s rights. In the process of that, we worked Kobe out one day against two guys who were supposedly going to be drafted higher than him, and it was ridiculous. It wasn’t even close. Then he wanted to work out for us one more time, so Michael Cooper, who’d been retired for a year or two, we asked him to come out and participate. It wasn’t much of a workout. It was like watching a 17-year-old guy just batter a 30-something year old guy, and you’d expect it’d be a lot more balanced than that. After about 40 minutes, I said, ‘We’ve seen enough.’ But it was really through (his agent Arn Tellum) and the Bryant family, that (teams passed on him). New Jersey was going to draft him at seven, which they did not. That was a long process, too, and stressful.

West introduces Shaq as a Los Angeles Laker West introduces Shaq as a Los Angeles Laker

Vlade Divac

The trade was difficult for me, obviously at that moment. But I always had a relationship with Dr. Buss, even after that. We would see each other during the summer, and I remember playing against the Lakers in those preseason games in Las Vegas, and he was always kind and always made sure he came to say hi.

Stu Lantz

Dr. Buss had a way of communicating with everybody, whether you were 18 or 80, Dr. Buss could make you feel comfortable. I’m sure he had a lot of good conversations with Kobe at that time that helped him get his feet on the ground. I can’t imagine coming into the league at 18 in a grown man’s world. Obviously, Kobe was able to do that with the help of the franchise.

Joey Buss

We were big into collecting basketball cards growing up. At the time, we were marveling at how much a Michael Jordan rookie card was in the early 1990’s. I was fascinated about how cards accrued value, and I’d always ask questions to my dad about it. So, we were preparing for the offseason in 1996 when we signed Shaq and traded for the rights to draft Kobe. Before that, I remember my dad telling me about this workout for an up-and-coming high school kid, and how Jerry West told him that he was going to be this special player. I remember thinking it was really cool to have somebody go to the NBA straight from high school, somebody that was only five or six years older than me. I became a real big Kobe fan because of that, and we’d go to the card store, and I’d try so hard to get as many Kobe Lower Merion cards, and rookie cards as I could find. I even wrote a paper when I was in seventh grade about how Kobe was going to be a future Hall of Fame player, and that the combination of Shaq and Kobe was going to be one of the best duos of all time. The teacher looked at me and said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s very hard to achieve that level of success.’ All that was because my dad sat me down and said he thought Kobe was going to be a real good player. I’m glad it turned out that way.

Sean Buss

Lakers Scout

Since Joey and Jesse were little, we’d go to the card shop and buy basketball cards, and (Dr. Buss) would love to quiz them on the players. They’d grab a card, and he’d ask them what their stats were that year. Jesse would just rattle off the stats. He absolutely loved it, because Jesse would know every single stat about every single player. And when we were all kids and we were together growing up, we’d always watch the games. But he wouldn’t want us to watch as fans, he’d be asking what we thought about specific players, how we thought certain free agents might fit on the team. Or he’d ask us about contracts, and certain trade scenarios. That was a big part of growing up for all of us.

Nick Van Exel

Lakers Guard (1993-98)

1X All-Star

The first time I met him was when we were in training camp in Hawaii, when he came into the gym in his jeans and his Hawaiian shirt, just watching practice. I connected with him more through others, some of the people that were tight with him, who would always tell me that ‘Dr. Buss said this’ or ‘Dr. Buss said that’. But when we did speak and get a chance to talk to each other, I thought it was real genuine. I thought he was really sincere about the things that he always said, so that’s what I appreciated the most about him. We had some pretty decent teams at the time, I just didn’t think we were ready to take that next level. In the 1990’s, basketball was a little different, and it took a team to win the title; it wasn’t put the best players on the court, it was all about teamwork and chemistry, and we were building towards that. So, Dr. Buss was one of the coolest owners I’ve been around. Very genuine, honest guy, and I respected him a lot.

Byron Scott

In 1996-97, after I came back to the Lakers for Kobe’s rookie year, we didn’t see Dr. Buss quite as much. He allowed Jerry West to make the bulk of the basketball decisions, and Dr. Buss would give him the yay or nay, and most of the time it was a yay. I think the everyday element had taken its toll, so he probably was spending more time with his family and a little bit less with the team.

Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott on the court Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott on the court

Jesse Buss

Assistant GM, Director of Scouting

I remember growing up in the 1990’s, and often losing to the best teams in the West, like the Supersonics, and then the Jazz. But once we acquired Shaq and Kobe, we started beating them more often than they were beating us. I’d heard all about the championships in the 1980’s, but we weren’t there yet. My dad was working with Jerry West, trying to build this team that was a playoff team, but not a contender. Everything changed when me and my brother Joey were at my dad’s beach house in Carlsbad, and he told us: ‘We’re going to hire Phil Jackson, but you can’t tell anybody.’ I was 11 at the time, and I knew he had been the Bulls coach, but I didn’t know what it necessarily meant. You focus on star players like Kobe and Shaq when you’re a kid. So I said, ‘Oh is that good,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, we really think he’s going to be able to bring us to contender status and try to really win a championship.’

Gary Vitti

Leadership starts from the top, and he was one of these guys who commanded respect. He didn’t walk around with a big hammer. He hired good people and he let them do their jobs, he trusted them. If we weren’t playing well, he would just show up at practice, unannounced, wouldn’t say anything. Just showed up and watched. And the level of intensity at practice rose instantly with his appearance in the gym. It wasn’t out of fear, it was out of respect, that players wanted to play hard for him. They wanted him to be happy with them. There wasn’t a lot of sour grapes between players and Dr. Buss. I think it’s because he commanded that respect. He treated people with respect. Never embarrassed anybody. Never talked down to people. He was just a very good man.

Tim Harris

It’s opening night for Staples Center: Nov. 3, 1999. I go up to the suite, and I sit down on the stairs next to him, and I said, ‘Well Doc, what do you think?’ He says, ‘It’s great. I love it.’ He was very appreciative, very happy. And he said, ‘I have one suggestion for you, Tim: It’s really bright in here.’ I said, ‘It is. It is. Dr. Buss, it’s because the lights are so high up in the ceiling, and in order to make the court bright enough for broadcast, it’s really bright.’ He says, ‘I understand, but can you keep an eye on that?’ So in 2004, the NBA came in with the All-Star game, and they brought in rigging with lights to create that sort of Broadway musical focus on the court. I talked to him, and I said, ‘Dr. Buss, a few years ago you mentioned the lights … is this what you had in mind?’ He said, ‘This is exactly what I had in mind.’ Dr. Buss was a big Broadway guy. He loved plays, and he wanted the focus to be on the athletes and the court. So I talked to the NBA, and that started the process of us putting the lighting in that we have now. That iconic, focus-on-the-court lighting, started on Nov. 3, 1999.

Joey Buss

Before the championships from 2000-02, as an adolescent, it was very frustrating watching the Lakers lose in the playoffs. I didn’t have firsthand memories of winning a championship, and felt like we’d never get one, because it seemed so hard. In 1999-2000, we got to the Western Finals against Portland, which was absolutely exciting. I remember watching those games with my dad. It came down to Game 7 at Staples Center, and halfway through the game I felt very defeated. We were down, and it was that same old thing. Fortunately, we put together a miraculous comeback. (Fast forward to the Finals) against Indiana, and in the 4th quarter and my dad grabs me and Jesse with a minute left in the game, and he says, ‘We gotta go!’ He just took us down to the court. I didn’t realize this was a thing, where you get handed this trophy from the commissioner and do a speech. I was just looking at my dad in awe, with how incredible that was. I asked him, ‘How could you go up there and do that?’ He said, ‘I just did it.’ I said, ‘But you’re so good at it!’ He’s like, ‘I hate it! But I have to do it.’

2001 Championship Los Angeles Lakers 2001 Championship Los Angeles Lakers

A.C. Green

Dr. Buss literally went through every moment vicariously with us. When I retired, I had a chance to watch some games with him. He was in the pass, he was in the deflection. You saw his mannerisms go with every little gyration that was going on. Having played, and then him talking about little things inside of basketball, subtle things that you knew he wasn’t just an owner up entertaining people during the games. Once that game got going, he was into it. Having known that about him, after we won various championships, the relief that you saw on him … when we got that trophy, it was like he was out there sweating with us. That’s the kind of guy you want to partner with. Not just the owner-player, employer-employee relationship. This was like brothers.

Jesse Buss

One of the great things about my dad is that no matter how successful he was, and no matter how much in the public spotlight he was, he always valued his family. He really showed that. I remember we’d just won the championship against the Pacers, and he took us down on the floor. We were holding the trophy, and there was a writer, Steve Springer with the L.A. Times, who came into the hallway when we were walking off the floor with my dad, and (Springer) asked what did it feel like to win your first championship since 1988? And I’d just played in a rec league game maybe a week prior. The Lakers had literally won the championship a few minutes earlier, but my dad couldn’t stop raving that I had 25 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks in my AAU game. He always wanted to make his family feel important, and he showed that in many different ways.

Mitch Kupchak

When Jerry West left, the transition was very natural … now, I will say that when Jerry retired, it was a little bit weird. I didn’t get a phone call, or any kind of notification that, ‘Well, Jerry’s leaving, Mitch, and I’m hiring you.’ I remember Jerry West retiring, and me saying, ‘OK, who’s the GM going to be?’ I think somebody asked me to reach out to Dr. Buss, and Dr. Buss said, ‘Well Mitch, of course you are.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ I think he assumed it, but of course I didn’t assume it. So that was an awkward couple of days.

Mark Madsen

Lakers Forward/Center (2000-03)

2X Champion

Dr. Buss was someone who really cared about other people, and I think that same tradition of loyalty of friendship has filtered down to his children. Because every family member of the Buss family I’ve ever met knows how to treat people. They’re respectful, they’re loyal and they’re good to other people as human beings. With Dr. Buss in particular, I had surgery on my left wrist after my rookie year. We were coming off a championship. We had gone through the playoffs only losing one game, against Philly. We had finished the parade, and Gary Vitti and the organization made the decision I needed surgery. I’d played the whole season with a torn ligament. So I had the surgery, and one of the first phone calls I got when I got home was from Dr. Buss, just calling to check in on me. He said, ‘Hey Mark, I know you had the surgery yesterday and am just thinking about you, hoping for a quick recovery, and I hope you’re OK.’ It was really cool of him. I’m sure he had a lot of things, having just won a championship, a lot of different engagements, but he was reaching out to me.

Devean George

Lakers Forward (1999-2006)

3X Champion

Dr. Buss was truly an amazing man. You have to look at me coming in as a rookie, with Hall of Famers like Phil Jackson, Kobe and Shaq, and the history of the Lakers. Me coming from a DIII school, I’m one of the youngest, unknown guys, lowest on the totem pole. I’m like the janitor, pretty much. The times that he took out for 1-on-1 time to get me to feel comfortable, to tell me that he loved my game, that he wanted me to play confident. And after a few bad games, he’d send his driver to me after the game and say, ‘Hey I’ll be picking you up tomorrow at 6 p.m.,’ and we’d go sit down and have dinner. He’d play his cards. We’d sit around, we’d talk. And then I’d go home. I remember the first time we did it, during my second season, he told me, ‘Hey man I really like your game, I like the way you play, I want you to go back and play confident and I want you to know that I’m the boss, and I like you. So I want you to play confident.’ Then at times, if I was struggling a bit later in the season, we’d do it again. For him to give me that 1-on-1, personal treatment considering where I stood on the team … that was treatment I thought he’d give Kobe or Shaq. Veteran guys. But he took the time (with me) a couple of times a year.

Joey Buss

At that point, we seemed unbeatable. During the Finals in Philly in 2001, we would get cheesesteaks before the games. New Jersey in 2002 was great; we stayed in New York. We’d go out to different musicals and shows and dinners with my dad. He was a very well-rounded person. The takeaway is that we all have to be good, well-rounded people. We all love this sport, basketball, but there are other things to enjoy in life as well, and he certainly enjoyed them all. He taught us that we should do our best to be happy, and do things that make us happy; whether or not that was basketball was up to us.

Joey Buss celebrates with his father after the Lakers' Championship in 2002 Joey Buss celebrates with his father after the Lakers' Championship in 2002

Devean George

I always (respected) how Dr. Buss interacted with people around the stadium. There’s no secret why the Lakers had had so much success under him. Success starts at the top. And it’s crazy how the Lakers are one of the biggest, most successful franchises in sports history, and it feels like a mom and pop organization. Everyone is tight. There’s always former Lakers around. It feels small, but it’s not. He talked to the janitors, the people that cleaned Staples Center. I would watch him ask them how their grandchildren were, if they graduated … knowing people by name. That’s not normal for most owners. Most owners are coming in, they have security, they go to their box, they get in and they get out. Dr. Buss is walking around, he’s in the (various) rooms, he’s hanging out, talking to people, shaking hands. I haven’t seen that a lot in my 11 years being around the league, owners being that human.

Kobe Bryant

Lakers Guard (1996-2016)

5X Champion, 2X Finals MVP, MVP, 18X All-Star

His patience stands out (to me) the most. We used to sit at his house and eat the same thing, Chinese chicken salad from California Pizza Kitchen, and we’d sit there and just talk. We’d talk about business. One of the things he said is the most important thing about business is just having patience. Not making quick decisions, rushing into things. Just sit and let the dust settle, and a decision will be evident to you. That’s one of the most important things he’s taught me.

Mitch Kupchak

We used to meet almost every month at his house and have lunch, and the lunch was always the same. It was California Pizza Kitchen – we’d always order out – and we’d meet for a couple of hours. The first hour was always just talking and telling stories and visiting. At the very end, we’d get to business, and he always had an opinion. He’d always end the discussion with something like, ‘Mitch, that’s my opinion but you’re the expert and I’ll trust your judgment.’ Now, the one thing that was unique about him, if it ever involved numbers, I never saw him ever write anything down or calculate anything in shorthand or with a calculator or anything like that. He did everything in his head. And his grasp of math, and his ability to run numbers and fit that into the equation, whatever the equation was – whether it was the cap, payroll, profit loss statements – whatever it was, he ran it all in his head. It was a very unique way of conducting business. Almost never, to my knowledge, I don’t remember ever seeing him with a pen or a pad in front of him. He would just sit there, empty desk, and I’d go through the business with him and vary rarely would he say, ‘Let me think about that and get back to you.’ It was almost always he had an opinion or a decision right then and there. And quite frankly, I can’t remember a time where he made a bad decision. Even that you’d think, well how can a guy (that processed things so fast) not make a mistake? Incredible.

Tim Harris

When we made the decision to move to Staples Center, we had to price the building. Dr. Buss was incredibly intuitive and in touch with the fans from a business standpoint. As business people, our job is to drive a profit, but you do that also by taking care of your customers. Jeanie, Dr. Buss and I spent a lot of time talking about price sensitivity. There were eight or nine different price codes, and each one had so many thousands of seats, not counting the floor seats. Now, after we won the title that first year in 1999-2000, I’d go back to Dr. Buss to ask for approval of updated price codes, and I’d have a document that compared last year’s price codes to what I was suggesting for the 2000-01 season. Then I’d add it all up and give a gross potential. And he would tweak a price code by $1.25, or $0.75, and in my mind I know he’s going to want to know the gross potential, so I’m getting out my calculator, but before I input the numbers, he’s already telling me what the gross potential is. He’s already done the math in his head. He was that fast. He was always right. He had this amazing feel for price sensitivity and value. You understood the genius of this man, because you’re dealing with a guy who’s just on a different plane. And here I’m trying to be a good employee and be able to inform him, and yet he’s informing me of the changes he wanted to make. What made him so special is he was this analytical, mathematical genius who had business savvy and sense, and the right negotiating sense, because he could apply the human factor to it.

He taught us that we should do our best to be happy, and do things that make us happy; whether or not that was basketball was up to us.

Joey Buss

Joey Buss

He would do math tricks when we were going places all the time. He loved to calculate how much time it would take us to get places, and what time we’d have to leave by to arrive on time. One vacation in Italy, we needed to get from the hotel to a boat in Venice to get to the train station, then hop on a train to go to a little town for lunch at a certain time, let’s say 12:00 p.m.; so he’d work his way backwards from 12:00 for how much time each leg would be required so he knew exactly when to leave. This was before smart phones, so there was no cheating. He had it all memorized in his head. He knew the patterns of how often the boats and trains would come, and it was then a challenge to the whole family to make sure it happened and to execute on it properly. It was a way to motivate us to be efficient. The whole way, he’d keep track on his watch, and we had to get there on the dot at 12:00. And he got it right every single time. He’d get a chuckle out of it, and a lot of satisfaction.

Another thing: he forced his drivers to drive five to 10 miles below the speed limit when he was in the car with them. He didn’t want to go fast. If you got up five miles over the speed limit, he’d say, ‘What are you doing? You’re going too fast. Slow down.’ He was very patient and he loved timing things out, but not necessarily rushing to places.

Vlade Divac

My last year when I retired (2004-05), I remember being a free agent, and one call from him made my decision easier when he told me, ‘You started with the Lakers, you have to retire with the Lakers.’ That was my decision, trusting that guy, and man, it was a pleasure to play with him.

Kobe Bryant

After we lost to the Pistons*, we had an organization type of dinner, with all the players and the media in a banquet room. I walked in and (Dr. Buss) called me over to his table and I sat next to him. We just started talking about the crazy journey that we’ve been on. We were just talking friend to friend. He didn’t know what the future held, I didn’t know what the future held. Shaq, myself, the whole team, we didn’t know. We were just sitting there talking, and that was a pretty special moment.
*In the 2004 Finals, Detroit beat L.A. 4-1.

Stu Lantz

It was a wonderful stretch of years, during the threepeat, despite the battle between the big fella and Kobe. Once they got on the floor, they seemed to be able to put all that behind them and do what they needed to do. With Dr. Buss, I’m sure he would have loved for the two of them and the team to be able to coexist a little longer and maybe get another title or two, but he let it play out. I don’t remember hearing of him really intervening and drawing a line in the sand for those two. I think he just figured that whether the front office, general manager or coach could figure out a way to make those two see their ways and see what was best for the franchise and the city.

Two More Titles, and Family Time

While still very much involved with the Lakers, Dr. Buss continued to rely on Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson, Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss and Magic Johnson as the Lakers built back up from the Kobe-Shaq years into the Kobe-Pau Gasol-Lamar Odom years. He also began to integrate his youngest sons, Jesse and Joey, more into the basketball business.

Magic Johnson

I’m going to always remember Vegas, Hawaii, Palm Springs … all his favorite places. And he loved Italian food. Every time we’d meet, it’d be at an Italian restaurant. Then he started to go to Italy for a month. That was one of his favorite things he started doing later on, because before, he was doing Hawaii for a month. Then he was doing Italy for the whole summer.

Joey Buss

We would go to Italy a lot, and we were staying at the Hotel Le Boulevard in Venice on the island of Lido when we had to trade Shaq. At the time, they only had a dial up internet connection, and a lot of data needed to be presented to my dad from the front office, so they’d use the fax machine. They’d fax over every scenario they had for Shaq trades. I remember walking into his bedroom and seeing 20 or 30 pieces of fax paper spread all over his bed as he was pouring over and analyzing every scenario and option. You’d pick up three of them, and it was the same trade tweaked multiple times. It really became overwhelming to see just how much he put into seeing every single little detail of that trade.

Gary Vitti

Dr. Buss had the trifecta of human values, as far as I’m concerned, which is honesty, kindness and loyalty, and I think that was most exemplified in the Ronny Turiaf situation. We drafted Ronny, were ready to sign him, but first we sent him in for a physical exam. That’s when we found out about his enlarged aortic root. We had several specialists look at him, and got a call from the guy at Stanford University, and he said, ‘I’m not worried about Ronny dying on the basketball court, I'm worried about Ronny dropping dead walking down the street.’ At that point, Ronny wasn’t at Gonzaga anymore, so they didn’t have health insurance for him; we hadn’t signed him, so we weren’t responsible for his healthcare, and he had no personal healthcare insurance. Dr. Buss paid out of his own pocket for a million-dollar surgery to save the kid’s life, not knowing if he’d ever play basketball. That’s when I learned, in my life, you can tell a lot about someone with how they treat someone else that can do nothing for them. And that’s what Dr. Buss did. He saved Ronny’s life, and he didn’t have to.

Jerry Buss catches up with Ronnie Turiaf Jerry Buss catches up with Ronnie Turiaf

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Between 2006 and 2011, I’d see him when I was coaching, and we’d reflect on memories. I read a biography on Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and really got into collecting early gold coins, so I focused on it, and it was interesting talking to Dr. Buss about his collecting. And I did very well investing in the coins. That book opened up a whole world up to me about the founding fathers. How he figured out our monetary system, the Coast Guard, customs, the first inspector general of the Army … ridiculous. My family is from the islands, so the West Indies part of his background resonated with me also. Fascinating man.

Jesse Buss

I’d just moved up to live with him in Playa Vista in 2006, and late one night after a game he was drinking wine. We’re just talking basketball for hours, until 2 a.m., and I’m telling him about how I love being a talent evaluator. I’m going through a bunch of different players throughout the league, and I remember he just looks at me after four or five hours, and he goes, ‘You know you were always so quiet, and I thought you didn’t know (stuff). But now I realize, you actually really know your (stuff)!’ Then he started asking for my opinion on things. (Eventually) I became his eyes and ears about college players. We would usually start watching NBA League Pass at 4 p.m., when the Eastern games would come on, but he didn’t really know as much about the draft. So I became obsessed with it, and how that process worked. You have cap space and you go for big stars, but that was something my dad was going to outline the blueprint for. But how can I contribute? I’m not going to tell them what trade to make. But with cap space so precious, and stars so important, I looked at the draft and saw how late first round picks don’t make a lot in salary. And teams like the Spurs were getting guys late in the first round that were contributors. So I immersed myself into the college game and wanted to be that for my dad, so we wouldn’t take up a lot of cap space, but we could still get valuable role players. We wouldn’t have to spend the midlevel exception; we could try to find midlevel value guys for a fraction of the price.

In the summer of 2007, Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Lakers. Dr. Buss responded by sending Kobe a telegram from Italy.

Kobe Bryant

He just said he was going to get (expletive) done. That was it. That’s what he basically said. He was going to build a championship team no matter what it takes. That was really kind of troubled times for us as a franchise, and I didn’t think they were doing whatever it took to win, and passed on some really good deals to get top players in. He just wanted to assure me that his promises never changed about winning championships, and being patient in the process, waiting for the right piece to come along. After hearing that from him, I decided to just trust him, and just stayed the course. Shortly thereafter, we got Pau Gasol, and the rest is history.

Stu Lantz

I think the operative words from Dr. Buss’ message to Kobe were, ‘Trust me … I’ve done things in my life, where when I say I’m going to work this thing out, trust me, we’re going to work this thing out.’ I never envisioned that his ‘trust me’ would end up with the kind of deal that he pulled off getting Pau. I don’t think other teams really wanted to deal with us to begin with, and then (that happened).

Kobe Bryant

(My decision to stay) was 100 percent Dr. Buss. As a player, you have to put your trust in the organization … and some organizations nowadays have so many different shareholders and board members and people that are making decisions by committee and all this crazy stuff. With the Lakers, it was one man. And so, I had to trust him. And when I heard from him, not just with the telegram but then sitting down with him in Barcelona and looking at him eye to eye. We talked for about an hour and a half, two hours, and I decided to believe in him, and he believed in me. It was a conversation that only he and I knew about. We didn’t tell Mitch (Kupchak), we didn’t tell anybody about that. It was just a conversation (Dr. Buss) and I had. We just stayed the course. We were out there on family vacation, and (Dr. Buss) was in Italy, and he hopped a plane to come sit with me. Coincidentally, I went to work out the next morning, and I was looking for gyms out there. The hotel recommended this (gym), and I went there in the morning, and Pau Gasol was there. I went there in the morning, and it was rare, because Pau never wakes up in the morning to work out! He was talking about wanting to get out of Memphis and all this stuff, and I’m like, ‘Man it’d be great if we could play together.’ I’ve always had respect for him, known his family. And little did we know we’d be teammates months later … extremely serendipitous.

Pau Gasol

Lakers Forward/Center (2008-2014)

2X Champion, 6X All-Star

It was weird timing, because Kobe was during that time also unhappy and there were stories of him potentially getting traded, or being able to move on from L.A., and then looking for a different situation. I was also in a position where I felt like I needed to move on and change scenery in a different situation because Memphis was going through a very tough, tough stretch with (former Grizzlies owner Michael) Heisley trying to sell the team, and constant rebuilding. We weren’t getting better to the point that I needed our team to be. So, it was interesting timing how we both ran into each other in Barcelona during a family trip from him, and he came to the gym I used to work out at in a hotel in Barcelona. And we just talked about how cool it would be if we could actually end up playing together, but I hardly gave it a thought, because I thought there was no way they would trade me to the Lakers. It wasn’t even in my mind. It was too good to be true. And guess what, a few months later, it ended up happening, and our paths crossed and we had an incredible run and were able to win championships. Life is funny that way. I’m super thankful how Kobe wanted me on board, how Dr. Buss also was in favor and supportive of getting me and doing what it took to get me to the Lakers. I couldn’t be more thankful for all the parties involved in that trade, because it really changed my career here in the NBA, and gave me a second life.

Jesse Buss

We had growth within our own team, like Andrew Bynum, to go with Kobe and Lamar. And I remember I was working as a scout when my dad called and let me know about us acquiring Pau Gasol. I asked, ‘What did Kobe think,’ and my dad had talked to Kobe on the phone, and Kobe said, ‘Yeah, I can win with this dude.’ We had the injury to Andrew and Trevor Ariza that year and ran into the Celtics in the Finals, but we showed big improvement from the year before, and ended up winning the next two years. My dad only missed the playoffs twice in his entire 34-year tenure as an owner. I saw how he would be able to rebuild a team quickly to get back to contender status. He was definitely someone that was willing to do whatever it took to bring the city of Los Angeles a winner, and win at the highest level. It was just great to be able to watch and learn.

Joey Buss

He was supposed to come out to Orlando. I was there with my wife; we’d just gotten married the year before. We were up 3-1, and I remember about 2-to-3 hours before tip, I called him and said, ‘Where are you, why are you not coming to Orlando?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to make it, you have to hold down the fort … if we win, you have to accept the trophy.’ I said, ‘Why can’t someone else do it.’ He said, ‘No, you’re an owner, I’m having you do it.’ I said, ‘Well, OK … do you have any advice?’ He said, ‘Oh you’ll do great, don’t worry,’ and he hung up the phone. I was a nervous wreck the entire game, and we won the game, and I delivered the best that I could at the time. So, he liked to challenge people. He liked to challenge us. I’m still not quite sure what possessed him to have me do it that time.

Joey Buss accepts the Larry O'Brien Trophy from David Stern Joey Buss accepts the Larry O'Brien Trophy from David Stern

Mitch Kupchak

I do remember when Lamar (Odom) was a free agent, and I’m not sure what our financial situation was at the time, but it was a rough negotiation, because we’d just won the 2009 championship. We actually ended up making an offer, and then taking the offer off the table, because it still was not acceptable. Ultimately we came back and made another offer and Lamar took it. (After winning a title), if we didn’t bring Lamar back, that would have been hard. And I remember after Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against Boston, down on the court amongst all the fanfare, Dr. Buss and I huddled up a little bit and kind of smiled. I don’t know who spoke first about it, but the discussion of Lamar came up and as hard as it was to work our way through that negotiation, at that moment, it was the greatest feeling in the world to have been able to have done that. You don’t know when you make the commitment what’s going to happen. Whatever Lamar got paid was worth it. What a unique talent he was. But lo and behold, we had won again, in dramatic fashion, and I remember the look in Dr. Buss’s eye, like, ‘We made the right decision.’

Kobe Bryant

After the first time we lost to the Celtics in 2008, Dr. Buss and I talked and I said, ‘Man I feel bad, we lost to the Celtics, I never want to bring that heartache to you and this organization ever again.’ He said, ‘No, it sucks losing to them.’ I said, ‘I promise to you we’ll never lose to those (expletive) again.’ And then we wound up beating them two years later, and we thoroughly enjoyed that, by the way, after we beat them in Game 7.

Magic Johnson

What people don’t realize is that Phil (Jackson) and them called me when we were about to lose Lamar Odom, and said, you’re the only one (Dr. Buss) will listen to. He was in Hawaii at that time, and I called him. I said, ‘We’re trying to repeat, and I know you love winning championships, and a key piece of that is Lamar Odom. We can’t let him go.’ And he said, ‘I know Earvin. Everybody’s been calling, but this is the call I’ve been waiting on. What do you think. I know you’re going to shoot straight.’ He would listen to Jerry (West), Phil … but then he’d get the confirmation from me.

Stu Lantz

I do remember after we won that year, on the night of Game 7, and looking in Dr. Buss’s eyes as he was being presented the trophy. You could see it. It was this big weight had been taken off of his back. This franchise and that franchise, and we got ‘em. After the 2008 debacle, being able to redeem yourself in 2010, that made it extra special. In a large way, that’s why you saw so much joy in Dr. Buss. He was thinking of Kobe. He didn’t want Kobe to be the only superstar Laker of his tenure that didn’t beat the Boston Celtics. When you add all those things up, you come up with why that series and that championships mean so much. They all mean a lot, but some mean a little bit more than others.

Jesse Buss

My dad started incorporating Joey and I more after we won the back-to-back titles, and we had the mid-level exception in the summer, and he asked who we liked. We’d come up with Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, and my dad was fully supportive of it, and cleared it with Mitch and Jim, and we ended up signing them. It was the first time we actually felt a part of something. And there were always all these hours spent talking basketball, and him trying to prep me for a bigger role. I think that’s what he always wanted, for this to be a family business, where we all work together. I remember him saying, ‘You know how cool it would be for the Buss family to own the Lakers for 100 years? That would be amazing to me. That would be incredible.’

Paying Tribute

Dr. Buss left a lasting legacy, expressed through those that were close to him.

Derek Fisher

Lakers Guard (1996-2004, 2007-2012)

5X Champion

Dr. Buss always carried himself (with a tremendous) level of humility. To me, that sums up everything about who he was and how much he cared about always wanting to his players to feel good about him and about the brand, especially for somebody that played as many years for the Lakers as I did. It was a remarkable experience that I’ll remember forever.

Kobe Bryant

(Towards the end) we were just talking and reminiscing about old times. It was good to see him, man. He was in great spirits, it was great talking, he still had his sense of humor. He talked about having two sons with this franchise, being Magic and myself. And that was pretty special to hear.

Magic Johnson

I never had a relationship like this, and nor did he. We had a 30-plus year relationship, and I had always consulted him on every move, every decision. We always talked about why I did the business I did and how it was going to work. We talked about where he was at in his life … the Lakers … we covered everything. So it’s strange to have a guy who’s your mentor, father figure and best friend all rolled into one … And then when Jeanie called me (to share the news that he had passed away … (one of the) toughest days in my life. Think about somebody calling you to say goodbye, and we both cried for I don’t know how many hours

Lisa Estrada

I got a call from Tim Harris on the morning that Dr. Buss passed away. Because I’d worked on prior events like Championship parades and so on, event mode planning started. I worked with Jeanie and Linda trying to get a place, get as much content as we can, and to discuss how we could make it tasteful … what we should give to this man and to the community. It was a whirlwind (amidst the sadness), and all of a sudden here we are at the Nokia Theatre, with check in, banners outside where people could write messages, former Lakers and NBA players … a beautiful stage and so on. It was really a great celebration of life for him, and I was so proud of that. All of these great people spoke about him. I hope he was looking down happy, and we hoped that the Buss family was happy with everything.

Pat Riley

It was an honor to be able to be asked to say some words. He was a very special man to me. He really was. You don’t realize these things until you get my age, that you have these kinds of people, that they’re not just your boss. He was a mentor to me in a lot of ways. With me, he was always classy. He did not yell and scream at me. He did not make demands. I knew he wanted to win, and I think what I was doing while I was there with the team that he had put together, he was satisfied with. He really was in a lot of ways a mentor, in business, in life and in basketball. He’s probably one of the best owners in the history of the NBA. I’ll never forget Jerry Buss. Never, ever. I love him, and his family, and I thank him to this day for the opportunity.

Kobe Bryant

It was a tough year, a tough day. I just remember generations of Lakers have come through this organization, obviously, and the team that we had at the time weren’t really knowledgeable of the history of the franchise. I just felt like with the passing of Dr. Buss, they need to understand what it means to wear this uniform. It’s more than just going out there and playing. It’s not just another team in the league. It means more, and it means more because of this one man, and everything that came from it. It was really important when I gave that speech not just to honor his memory and his legacy, but to also make sure we honor him in a way that we carry his legacy moving forward.

Pau Gasol

Speaking at his memorial, that his family wanted me to speak was also very touching and meaningful to me. To speak about what Dr. Buss meant to the Lakers and to basketball, to the NBA, period. The entrepreneur, the Doctor. Such a meaningful and historical figure to all of us that who love this game and this League.

Mychal Thompson

Dr. Buss was the perfect owner to play for. He made you feel appreciated, and part of the family. You weren’t just a spreadsheet to him. Some owners look at it like a business, only. It was very personal with him. He is the greatest team owner ever. Ten titles. The most innovative with Showtime and all the business connections … he was way ahead of his time, more than any owner in history. He made my dreams come true when he welcomed him to the Lakers family. That’s something I still talk about and brag about to my sons.

He was a brilliant, incredible owner, but he was even a better person with a great heart.

Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O'Neal

Lakers Center (1996-2004, 2007-2012)

4X Champion, 3X Finals MVP, MVP, 15X All-Star, Hall of Fame

Playing for him was one of the best highlights of my life. Even after I got traded away, we still kept in touch. And I would come back in town, and we would see each other. Dr. Buss will always be forever in my heart. That's why, when I created this new uniform, I wanted people to see that. His name will already be remembered, but to have it right there (on the shorts) is pretty big.

Jamaal Wilkes

Dr. Buss was incredible as an owner. What impressed me most about him was he would speak to the parking attendant, the staff, anybody … he just liked people, and you felt that about him. You wanted to give him a little extra. We always knew he was the boss, don’t get me wrong, and we knew if he wasn’t pleased with how we were playing, but he was such a good guy that you really wanted to give that little extra. And in hindsight, we can see the result. He was a master at dealing with people, a genius businessman, and really just as good with people as he was with business. I think that’s why people just adore him so.

Vlade Divac

I miss him a lot. The NBA lost a great man. After all the experiences I’ve had in pro sports, I’ve never had a better owner. It’s easy to say that he was the best sports owner around the world. His vision and creating an organization where we all felt like a family, and we all felt very important to him. It wasn’t just owner-athlete relationship, it was more like a family with his employees. He was there to support us. Just a great feeling to play for an organization that had a leader like Dr. Buss. He left the organization in good hands – Jeanie is a great owner, too. She’s trying to do the same thing her dad did, so that’s great.

Jesse Buss

The thing he taught me the best is that he maximized his days. That’s how I try to live. He showed that you don’t really have to lock yourself down in one area as a person. You can be multifaceted. You can be super successful and win at the highest level while being a great father and family man, and also still have a social life. He really maximized his time and was very efficient with his time, and he knew later on that he didn’t have much time left. He also taught me how to be a leader and to hire the best people and let them do their jobs. Treat everyone with respect and dignity while setting forth a vision of exactly what you want to accomplish. His two things he was mainly focused on was winning championships, getting the Lakers back to that level, and being a family man, being a father to his children.

Jeanie Buss

Dr. Buss really would have been happy being a teacher. That’s what he wanted to do in his life. He had a brilliant mind, and he made a fortune in real estate because he was able to see the opportunity and bring everything together, and that’s how he built his wealth. So when you talk about him not being a person who would yell or be a tyrant or throw things to motivate, he was a teacher, and he knew how to motivate people. A teacher doesn’t turn off the student with a tone of voice. It’s about bringing out the best from that person. My dad could see talent, and he knew how to approach and get the best out of each person.

Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, Dr. Jerry Buss, and Phil Jackson Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, Dr. Jerry Buss, and Phil Jackson

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I don’t think an owner of a team should be someone that just sat back thinking about making, ‘Well, it will make me X amount each year.’ Dr. Buss was passionate about it. And he had an ability to let Bill Sharman, Jerry West, Pete Newell make important decisions that he didn’t have the background to make. It was a long time before the other franchises got wise like that. I just think he did a great job with the opportunity that he had, and his vision has really benefitted the game. It was nice working for him.

Stu Lantz

I don’t do death very well. There is no good answer for the loss of a loved one. Coming through life, there are some people that you look at as more than a friend, more than a boss. You look at them like father figures. It wasn’t that I was around Dr. Buss that much that I had to rely on him for something, but when you were around him … damn … he made you feel good.

Jerry West

He was really a very nice guy who enjoyed the fun things in life. We talked about where we came from, what our lives were like, and in a lot of respects we had some similarities in our lives. I think his father was a coal miner, if I remember correctly, and we shared a lot of personal things that you share if you like each other. Jerry was soft spoken, he had a great charm about him, and was just a unique person who believed in me for a long time, and I don’t think in my life I’ve ever had anybody who was as straight forward with me as him. I think his success led him to the heights where people, fans loved him, and they were like him. He had an appeal to the common man, and that’s what I think when I look back at everything. I was thankful he gave me an opportunity to get involved, and more importantly, get involved with someone like him where I learned a lot. The love of his life was the Lakers and his kids. He was a great guy and someone who I really cared about a lot.

Magic Johnson

Even today, when they talk on ESPN, ‘Greatest Owners in Sport History’ … come on man, that’s crazy! It’s just him! What are we arguing about? Ten championships? Countless times to the Western Conference Finals … but no, we’re not putting those banners up. And he had his hands on everything. He was the mastermind. Everybody today should be thanking him. The money that everybody is making today … he was the first one that saw outside that box, and he really moved the NBA to a whole other level by his out of the box thinking. He was like a rebel, but in a good sense. He was one of a kind, man.

Jeanie Buss

Dr. Buss was very thoughtful. When he approached a problem, he never panicked, he never screamed, he was methodical in his approach. He would empower the people that worked for him, and he’d be a problem solver. Never raised his voice, and that inspired people. My dad had his children, but the Lakers were his baby. He wanted to make sure that the Lakers, what he’d created with the winning, and what they meant to the community, would continue. That’s why when he’d make a decision, he’d take the time to explain to me the thought process behind it, so I’d always know where that decision was coming from and why he believed in particular. He wasn’t born in Los Angeles, but it was his home, and he loved it here. He would talk about how he could go anywhere in the city and people loved the Lakers. Any age group, any ethnic group. He’d say, ‘Jeanie, the Lakers are what connects the community, and when they’re not winning, then we’re not being part of the community.” It’s almost like the Lakers are owned by the fans. It doesn’t mean you can always win every year, but you have to give them something that they’re proud of and that they can connect to. People thought it meant you had to have a superstar, but it really wasn’t about that, it was about the winning, and then people would see the superstars because we were winning. That’s why it’s such an important part of his formula for success, and why it’s important to find that winning formula and to continue to keep the team focused on winning, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

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