It fell to Kobe Bryant to say a few words about Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss before the team’s first game since his death Monday.
Fittingly, the Lakers were playing their arch-rival, the Boston Celtics, in the Staples Center Wednesday night and the evening began with a video of images from Buss’s life and the Lakers’ 10 NBA championship.
Then, Bryant spoke at midcourt in the darkened arena.
“On Monday we lost what we all know to be the greatest owner in sports, ever,” Bryant said. “He was a brilliant and incredible owner, but he was an even better person with a great heart. His vision has transcended the game and we are all, all, spoiled by his vision and by his drive to win year after year after year.
“Through our years being here at Staples Center, the one thing that we could always count on was the great Dr. Jerry Buss overlooking his franchise from his box. I’d like to ask all of you to please join us in a moment of silence to honor the great Dr. Jerry Buss.”
The Jumbotron showed Buss’s usual seat in his suite, left empty. Buss, who purchased the Lakers in 1979, died of kidney failure stemming from complications from cancer. Then, one last time, his voice was heard in the arena.
“The real purpose of what I do was to try to have this city totally involved and identified with it,” Buss said. “I wanted that, when you think L.A., ‘Oh, wait, that’s where the Lakers play. Lakers. Lakers.’ That’s what I wanted.”
Afterward, the struggling, bickering team beat the Celtics, 113-99, and improved to 26-29 with one of their better efforts of the season. Dwight Howard was the leading scorer with 24 points and added 12 rebounds. Bryant had 16 points and five others scored in double figures.
“We’ve been in that situation with Red Auerbach, and so many other emotional games — teams are very dangerous, especially in their home building,” the Celtics’ Paul Pierce said. “You take a lot of pride in protecting that and going out and getting that first win. You could see it in their eyes. I saw it in Kobe’s eyes. He was really emotional coming out and he wanted this game bad. We understood that.”