Memo From Michael: Remembering Dr. Jerry Buss

Last week, the sports world lost one of its giants. A man who made his imprint not only on his team and his sport, but on those who worked with him and for him. Jerry Buss, the people that knew him best called him Dr. Buss, died at the age of 80 leaving behind an army of admirers. Buss was not an athlete or a coach. He was in a position least likely to have the kind of impact he has had – an owner with no background in sports.

He stayed out of the spotlight, like the conductor of a great symphony in the pit, as all eyes watched the show put on by the teams who wore the Los Angeles Laker uniform. It turns out he was not merely the conductor, he was the composer of the music and the casting director of the people who brought it to life.

Dr. Buss had a unique vision of combining basketball and entertainment without cheapening the sport. He found ways to inject excitement and energy into the NBA game and the fan experience. The Lakers won 10 NBA championships during his tenure, and that is impressive. But I was more impressed learning of his legacy of friendship and caring.

Though I am a diehard Laker fan and season ticket holder, I never thought that much about him. I knew very little about him, other than that he was a hard partying Playboy with a PhD in chemistry and a very successful real estate entrepreneur.

At his memorial service, a parade some of the most influential names in basketball spoke with such sentiment and sincerity that I got a very different picture of a man who apparently lived a worthy life. As Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, his towering achievements were less significant than the tender moments embedded in the hearts of those whose lives he directly touched. He was remembered as a devoted father to his children (all six work for the Laker organization), a father figure to some of his athletes including Magic Johnson, a mentor and a good friend.

In my poem “What Will Matter” I said, “What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.”

By that standard Jerry Buss lived a life that mattered. And that deserves our praise and gratitude.

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