(EDITOR’S NOTE:) Tributes to Jerry Buss in the last week have focused on his vision in bringing a brand of basketball that made the Lakers and the NBA popular all over the world. An example of this is provided here by Observer sports columnist Bosmat Eynav
Picture this: a remote desert town in Southern Israel, home to 20,000 people; three banks, one high school, one cinema, one market, one pub and me.
Everyone knows your business and every untoward step you take is reported directly to your parents. At the end of the day, the good guys meet at the pub. This pub has a special tradition. Whomever travels overseas brings to the pub a flag of a European soccer team or an NBA team to help decorate the bar.
By the end of the ‘80s I was in my mid-teens and quite experienced at sneaking into the pub.
At the bar sat those we called the “Sports Sharks.” These guys knew every player, every move, every score of every game of the NBA. Those with enough courage to approach the bar were barraged with NBA trivia questions. The lucky ones who knew their stuff were rewarded with a drink on the house. The rest of us were banished to the
tables on the periphery.
Our local heroes were the basketball players of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Every Thursday our tiny nation was galvanized as we watched them on TV. The whole country was united in our support of the Tel Aviv team.
At the time Israeli NBA fans were relegated to the sports freaks who would wake up at 2 am to watch the games broadcast until the break of dawn. We, as teenagers, would convene at a friend’s house who lived in a unit separate from his folks, watch the game, go for breakfast, then straight to high school. We earned the name “burnt out NBA fans”.
In 1989 I was chosen with 30 other women to play volleyball for the National team of Israel. The coach was a real lover of the Los Angeles Lakers. His main goal was to expand our consciousness and he drilled into us that a real athlete must be connected with his or her spirit.
Every practice, training camp, tournament or meet was an opportunity for this coach to use as example the character of Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.
In the early ‘90s the focus shifted to the Chicago Bulls. Every youthful bedroom had posters of Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scotty Pippin, and the Zen Master Phil Jackson. We followed every move in the sport. When Rodman was quoted as saying, “Don’t mess with the Master,” that became our Mantra.
When the United States Olympic basketball Dream Team played, we were soldiers in the Israeli army. In our leisure time, we actually preferred to watch this team than to get down in a night club. It was pure euphoria.
But still there were Laker loyalists, and Kobe Bryant fanned our fire.
Today, 25 years later, I look back on this with more mature eyes and a deeper understanding of the man who made all this possible. I take my hat off to Jerry Buss, who built such a strong team, brand and phenomenon.
This visionary man, brilliant and caring, influenced so many people throughout the world in such a positive way, and I am blessed to be among them.
I hope his family will follow in his giant footsteps and promote the values of love, mutual respect and altruism that he modeled instead of following personal interests, pride and power which too often splinter a team.
May the soul of Jerry Buss rest in peace.