Before the Los Angeles Lakers took on their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics, on Wednesday night, the team celebrated the life and legacy of late owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died Monday at age 80 as a result of kidney failure after being hospitalized. The pregame ceremony included a slideshow of images tracing Buss' journey from poverty in Wyoming to vast wealth and power in L.A.; a brief speech by Lakers star Kobe Bryant, whose entire 17-year NBA career has been spent with the Lakers and who credited Buss with making him realize he wanted to be a Laker for life; and a moment of silence observed by the capacity crowd of 18,997 on hand at Staples Center.
In case you missed it, watch the ceremony below:
After the video package of highlights from Buss' illustrious 34-year tenure as the owner of the Lakers, a period that included 16 NBA Finals trips and 10 NBA championships, Bryant stepped to center court to address a sold-out Staples Center.
"On Monday, we lost what we know to be the greatest owner in sports, ever," Bryant said. "He was a brilliant, incredible owner, and he was even a better person, with a great heart. His vision has transcended the game; we are all — all — spoiled by his vision, and by his drive to win year after year after year.
"And through our years being here at Staples Center, one thing that we could always count on was the great Dr. Jerry Buss overlooking his franchise from his box," Bryant continued, pointing to the Buss family's luxury suite above the court, where Buss' seat sat empty, bathed in a single spotlight, as the crowd applauded.
Bryant then asked the crowd to join him in a moment of silence in memory of Buss. After about 20 seconds of quiet, the Staples Center's public address announcer played an audio snippet of Buss from a past interview: "The real purpose of what I do is to try to have the city totally involved and identified with it. And I wanted that, when you think L.A., you think, 'Oh, wait, that's where the Lakers play.' Lakers, Lakers. That's what I wanted."
He also, of course, wanted what the Lakers provided after the ceremony ended and the game began — a strong, committed, all-hands-on deck performance resulting in a confident, comfortable win over the guys in green by the guys in gold, who wore a special patch bearing the late owner's initials above the Lakers logo on the front of their jerseys.
Hours after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear that he wouldn't be moved before Thursday's 3 p.m. EST trade deadline, Dwight Howard offered a reminder of why the Lakers have so heavily invested in retaining him. The All-Star center scored a team-high 24 points on 10 for 13 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and looked as good and sharp as he has in months in leading seven Lakers in double figures to a 113-99 win over the Celtics. Howard and point guard Steve Nash — who had 14 points and seven assists, pushing him past Lakers great Magic Johnson into fourth place all-time in assists in NBA history — seemed much more in sync on Wednesday than they have for much of the season, combining well in the screen-and-roll game to give the L.A. offense more activity and shape than it's had in recent sputtering.
"We talked before the game, talked a little bit this weekend about what we can do with the pick and roll to help this team out," Howard said after the game, according to Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News. "How we can be aggressive, but at the same time make sure that everybody's involved. It showed tonight."
"He has to find ways to free me up and therefore, I am going to find ways to free him up," Nash added, according to Beth Harris of the Associated Press. "It is still a work in progress, but the last two games before the break he really committed into running pick-and-rolls, setting good screens, rolling hard and you saw either me free for jump shots or him going down the paint for fouls or finishes."
The result was a game in which the Lakers led a relatively punchless Celtics squad (save for Paul Pierce, who had 23 points before intermission, but just three on two field-goal attempts in the second half) by 24 points entering the fourth quarter, and cruised to a badly needed win. It's only too fitting on a night honoring a man who famously said beating the Celtics was "one of the biggest reasons I bought the Lakers" and that L.A.'s 1985 Finals win over the C's "removed the most odious sentence from the English language [...] It can never again be said that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics."
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