How are you holding up with the news on Dr. Buss’ passing?
“It’s been tough. I was hoping to get by the hospital today or tomorrow to see him. I didn’t realize it was this imminent. I was disappointed both ways that he passed and that I didn’t get a chance to visit with him.”
What are your memories of him?
“My memories of him were incredible. I was blessed to play for a winning team and a winning owner. I remember when I came to the Lakers, Mr. Jack Kent Cooke still owned the team. He was going through a nasty divorce at the time. I appreciated him, but he was a different personality than Dr. Buss. When Dr. Buss bought the team, he hired basketball people and then let them do their job. You knew he was the boss and knew he was a brilliant man. But he never tried to make you feel he was all of those things. He made you relaxed and just wanted you to play hard and play well and win. He had high expectations, which I was used to. We won and the team kept winning and winning. His legacy is remarkable. It’s not only a sad day for L.A. and Lakers fans and NBA fans, but it’s a sad day for sports fans all over the world. His vision and bringing in the Laker Girls and band, everyone around the league copied him.”
When did you last visit him?
About a year ago, I spoke over the phone and we saw each other.
How was he then?
“We’re all going to get old. He was clearly getting older. We didn’t visit that long or talk that much. He told me that Jeanie [Buss] and Jim [Buss] were running things. I could tell he was winding down, if you will. He’s a private man and his family handled it in a private manner so you weren’t sure how he was. But the last couple of years, I saw him at a UCLA basketball game and visited with him briefly. The last couple of years, my sense was he was getting close. But you always wanted to respect his privacy because he was a private man.”
What’s Dr. Buss’ legacy?
“I would say he was the brain child and inspiration for all the Lakers’ success. First of all, I think he enjoyed people. He liked people and had a folksy way about him. He was clear on his expectations and he always respected who he was and what he accomplished. But you never felt intimidated he was the boss. You didn’t feel that way because of how he approached situations and handled situations. You wanted to as a pro, you should always do your best but you always wanted to give him the extra effort. He got Hollywood excited and interested in the Lakers. He bumped it up above just winning a champipnship. It really became like the Academy Awards or the Oscars. He brought it up to that level.”
What’s your overall feeling about the direction of ownership could head into after his passing?
“I haven’t thought that far yet. I’m digesting that this great man is no longer with us and my family would like to extend heartfelt condolences to the Buss family. There are questions going forward, but I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
What did it mean to you for Dr. Buss to release a statement honoring your efforts in regards to your jersey retirement?
“It sums who he was as a person. He was not only the owner and fan of the game, but he appreciated the game and the contributions his players provided for him. I was flattered he said it. The fact he said it says a lot about him and who he was. He’s a big fan of the Lakers. He appreciated excellence and he felt an obligation to express that publicly.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org