Tribute to a Spiritual Warrior

Dr. Jerry Buss (January 27, 1933 – February 18, 2013)

By Stephen J. Johnson, Ph.D.


In my article titled: Who Are the Real Heroes Today? I opened the piece with a statement about two sports figures that have fallen from Grace. In contrast, I want to offer herewith a brief tribute to a man that superstar sports players and coaches called a friend and father figure. Dr. Jerry Buss, the legendary real estate mogul and owner of the Lakers was a bon vivant and a uniquely remarkable man. He lived his life to the fullest every day until his death on February 18, 2013 at the age of 80. He loved life and made everything fun for those who shared his intimate time and for those who love basketball and for Angelinos who appreciate the entertainment and vitality that he has brought to our city. And yet he was also recognized for being a man that others could count on and many young men credit him as having been the father for them that was missing in their lives.

I knew some facts about Dr. Buss including his loyal and generous connection to our Alma Mater, USC. But, when I sat the other night watching the replay of the memorial service that had taken place earlier in the day I was deeply moved by the impact that this man had had on other men. I listened as Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Pat Riley spoke about Dr. Buss’ character, energy and vision. He was touted as being a humble man from humble beginnings who rose to wealth and fame without losing touch with his roots and genuine humanness. He also had the reputation for being a playboy but what struck me most was learning how much he was viewed as a loving father, father figure and mentor. It became apparent to me that Jerry Buss was in fact a hero to many.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expressed his admiration for Dr. Buss during the memorial service in the following statement: “His passion for life made Jerry a modern Renaissance man. He was a beloved college professor, a courageous entrepreneur and a generous philanthropist. No matter what he did, he was a success. Perhaps his greatest quality was his willingness to share his success with everyone else.”

He continued, “When I think of Jerry, I like to picture him at his beloved poker table, where he had great success in several major tournaments. I think of him sitting there with the world’s best poker players, staring them down, and suddenly pushing all of his chips into the middle, and declaring with a twinkle in his eye, ‘All in.’ That’s the way Jerry lived his life, all in, all them time.”

Sports writer Bill Plaschke, in his article titled “His Legacy will be purple and bold,” in the Remembering Jerry Buss section of the Sunday, March 3, 2013 Los Angeles Times wrote the following, “When you feel the inspiration of Magic Johnson, you feel the inspiration of Jerry Buss.” Plaschke pointed to the “mutual magic” between a beloved mentor and his favorite student who spent their final hours together holding hands on a hospital bed. While Dr. Buss was entering the final stages of his battle with cancer he wanted to spend some of it with Johnson who was essentially his “adopted son.”

Johnson said that, “Dr. Buss gave me the platform to be Magic. He gave me the knowledge to be Magic.” He went on, “He had such a big heart. I’ve lost my second father. I have lost one of my best friends.” During their final visit they relived their path together beginning when Buss purchased the Lakers in 1979, the same year that Johnson was the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. They spent a lot of time together over the years and, “then as Johnson grew older, Buss gave him something even more important than basketball. He gave him the skills for life after basketball.”

When he spoke at the memorial Johnson remarked, “When I announced HIV, I knew he was really a father figure in my life. We cried for hours, him not knowing if I would be here 22 years later, thinking he would lose a son, an adopted son. He picked up the phone and started calling hospitals to make sure that I had the best healthcare possible, the best doctors.

“He would call me all the time. ‘You OK? You taking your meds? You doing what you’re supposed to do?’ That’s when I knew this man loved me and cared about me outside of winning championships, outside of making no-look passes. That’s who Jerry Buss was. He cared about all of this players, not just on the court, but off of the court as well, as men, as people.”

I encourage men to follow the lead of Dr. Buss and view the role of mentor and father figure as a significant contribution to the world of those who may suffer a Father Gap and are searching for guidance and meaning in their lives. If more men would view the value that they can bring to those that are in need of a sense of belonging and recognition we could ultimately make a difference in the harsh reality of so many young men whose lives are adrift, lacking direction, with no one to guide them, and no hope of going anywhere or amounting to anything.

Stephen J. Johnson, Ph.D., MFT, FAPA is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills ( and the Executive Director of the Men’s Center of Los Angeles ( His new book, The Sacred Path: The Way of the Spiritual Warrior (Journey to Mindful Manhood) was recently published and is available at:

In Stephen Johnson’s new book, The Sacred Path: The Way of the Spiritual Warrior (Journey to Mindful Manhood – Sacred Path Press, 2013) he characterizes “The Father Gap: The Wound that Just won’t Heal” and how it’s the hidden cause of much of what troubles men, causing their lives to go adrift. His research reveals that men are particularly vulnerable to four primary crisis points striking at certain ages from youth to Elderhood. Rather than offering some simplistic success formula, Dr. Johnson challenges men to raise the bar in their lives, so that they can be the father and husband that they want to be, as well as doing the work that reflects their love and passion. In support of this path, he invites men to develop six chivalrous qualities that go beyond the money, sex, and power values that are conditioned into us from birth. The six challenges are: Self-Discipline, Positive Intentionality, Valor (not running away from fear), Honor, Compassion, and Joy. He includes a chapter on Mindful Manhood in which he highlights seven of the practices along the journey to accomplishing mindfulness: Non-Resistance, Refraining, Patience, Stillness, Solitude, Discernment and Light-Heartedness.

The Sacred Path allows the reader to understand men without judgment and stereotypical biases, as it paints an authentic and honest picture of men on several levels. Any woman reading this book will gain an appreciation of the man or men in her life. He weaves his depiction of men while also revealing hia own personal journey, so that the reader will walk away with an understanding of how he has arrived at his beliefs. This work is based on 25 years of running workshop retreats for men, as well as working with men and women in his private practice of over 40 years.

The Sacred Path: The Way of the Spiritual Warrior is essential reading for any man who feels an emptiness and superficiality in his life, and feels that he is constantly driven by insatiable quests. And, this is a welcome read for women wanting to have a deeper understanding of men and who can benefit from a roadmap guiding a smoother way along the often-bumpy relationship journey. LeVar Burton wrote the Foreward and can be seen speaking about the book in the book trailer. Visit to view the trailer, learn more about the author and order your copy of The Sacred Path.

Book review by Bruce Derman, Ph.D.
Author of: We’d Have a Great Relationship if it Weren’t for You