I’m sorry about Dr. Jerry Buss’ passing. How are you holding up?
“We’ve been processing it for a week now. We knew he was ill and slowng down a little bit. We had time to think about it. We didn’t know what the status was. But it was a tough day. He was good to be around and fun to go out to dinner with. You didn’t have to talk about basketball. He was just cool to be around. We’re going to miss him coming around the locker room.”
What was Jerry Buss like as an owner?
“Dr. Buss was a cool dude and a great guy and he was a good friend. You take away him being the owner of the Lakers and all the championships. You take that away and we’re losing a great guy who understood people. He drafted you because he thought you could help them win championships. But the relationship started afer he drafted you. He wanted to be a part of your life and wanted to know what’s going on. He really cared aobut all people. Not just his plyetrs but to everybody who worked on his house, the gardeners, the parking lot attendants, everyone. Everyone was equal to him and he created that atmosphere.
What was your relationship like with him?
“It was close. I always felt his door was always open. We didn’t have to go out and hang out. But every now and then I’d meet up with him at one of his favorite Italian restaurants and talk about life before we even got into basketball. I know we’d often go to the Chart House in Marina del Rey. He’d buy me dinner and next time I’d pay for his check. He wanted to know how my kids were doing. He was a father and uncle all mixed up in one.
I can remember one time there were some trade rumors about me going to Dallas in 1986 and I unleashed in the paper. I said I don’t understand management and why they didn’t call me and why they didn’t let me know. When I met with Dr. Buss, he was like a Greek mythology teacher. He was calm and easy. He said, ‘James, I understand this is a business and you have the tendency to get upset sometimes. But when you’re taking about management; you’re talking about me. I’m sitting there frozen as he’s talking to me. He said, ‘I want to make sure you’re saying what you want to say. We want you here.’ That was a good moment and he was brutally honest.
That’s when Jerry West urged Buss not to make the trade, right? (The Lakers had been considering trading West to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre & Roy Tarpley).
“Jerry West came to my defense and so did Pat Riley. Mark Aguirre was a good friend with Magic [Johnson]. That year, I said I didn’t know who management was. I don’t know if it’s Magic or Dr. Buss. I was making a big deal of it.”
So what did it mean to you that he understood your frustrations and talked with him?
“That’s just who he was. He had a unique way of looking at life and it was simple. Nobody was better than anybody and you needed to be about hard work. He was real and kept it real. He didn’t want anything over realness and making sure everybody was happy. He wanted you to do your job. He gave you rope to make mistakes and be free. But the end result was he wanted to win. He did so by providing his that atmosphere and paying his players.”
When did you get to last visit him?
“Last time over a year ago.”
What was he like?
“He was still Dr. Buss. I could tell he wasn’t the same Dr. buss 20 years ago. We also could tell we’re not the same people 20 years ago and we’re all slowing down a bit.”
Where does he stand among sports owners?
“He’s the only one I know. I’ve heard other players and the Yankees talk about [George] Steinbrenner. But Dr. buss was the best owner in sports. He had a coolness to him. But he backed that up with love and showed he really cared.”
What made him a great owner?
“He was able to hire good people and let them do their job. He wasn’t on the sidelines or on the floor seats. He was sitting up top in his suite. If he gave input, he knew how to do it. He would say it in such a way that he made it sound like he had your back and was willing to work with you. He conversed with people. I saw how he treated his kids and the love had had for them there. You always want to be around that type of person.”
How much awareness at the time you were playing that Dr. Buss had that immediate impact?
“I saw it with Magic, Kareem and Cooper perform the style of play he wanted for Los Angeles. Combine that with Jack Nicholson and all the celebrities at the Forum. Dr. Buss wanted that unique style. But he also understood the game. He wanted the flair, but he also understood hard work. It was apparent immediately when you have Jerry West and Pat Riley looking over your shoulder. Dr. Buss knew what he was doing.
What’s your feeling about how Dr. Buss’ passing affects future ownership?
“I knew Jeanie [Buss[ and I know Janie [Drexel]. I can’t say I know Jim and Johnny well. But I know Dr. Buss has left a formula for his family to follow. They love his organization. I’m hoping and know they will run it the way their father did. I know it’s been a crazy debacle for the past year or two. But I can see them sustaining the organization’s success. I’m keeping my optimism.”
What keeps you optimistic?
“I’ve seen how they’ve grown over the years. This being the first year that the family is being involved, there might be growing paints. It’s not easy to run the organization and they’re not their dad. But they will learn and continue to keep it going. I’m optimistic because I know the family and Dr. Buss both love the Lakers.”
What’s the strongest memory you have of Dr. Buss?
The first championship I won when we beat the Celtics in 1985. I remember his hair being all over the place. We were all over him. The Lakers had suffered losing to Boston for so many years. For him to be the first Lakers owner to beat the Celtics, it was crazy. I remember being in that little itty bitty tiny locker room in Boston. Dr. Buss stood up at the podium. I could see him. He was four feet above us looking down. Seeing the smile on his face, to me that’s a moment I captured. That was one of the happiest days of his life.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com