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Jeanie Buss glad Lakers get to honor Kobe Bryant

Because of the abrupt nature of Magic Johnson's retirement in 1991, the Los Angeles Lakers did not get to pay homage to one of the game's all-time greats at a level befitting his importance to the city and the NBA.

That won't be the case Wednesday, when the Lakers pay tribute to Kobe Bryant in his final game.

"We had that opportunity with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], but we didn't have that opportunity with Magic," Lakers co-owner and president Jeanie Buss told ESPN on Tuesday. "After Magic retired and we struggled through the mid-'90s, I said to myself, 'If I'm so fortunate to ever be graced by the presence of such talent, I will do everything that I can to honor that talent.'

"It's from the heavens above, and there's only so many players. They're few and far between, and I've seen two amazing talents play for the Lakers in their prime, bring the team glory, bring the city glory. That was something that I promised the heavens, that I would never take it for granted."

Buss said the team was already planning to honor Bryant in his 20th season, so it took just a slight tweak when Bryant announced in November that he would retire after this campaign.

"The goal was to celebrate 20 years of Kobe," Buss said. "To celebrate him and his career and what he's meant to the fans, to the city, and just to the people who love him. Not just here but all over the world. It gave us an opportunity. When he decided to announce that he was retired, it was kind of like we already had these things in place anyway, and we just made it more about retirement."

The Lakers will do a video tribute for Bryant before the game and tributes at timeouts and breaks throughout the game. After the game, Bryant will address the crowd.

Buss referenced the speech given by Leonardo DiCaprio after he won an Oscar as an inspiration for the franchise's celebration of Bryant.

"He made a point to say that he would not take it for granted, and that's an important thing for people in life," she said. "To know the things that are truly special and that don't happen every day and really kind of remark and honor that. To me, that's what this year was about."

Buss said she's been especially impressed with the reception the rest of the league has given Bryant, long a polarizing figure in the NBA, on his farewell tour.

"It's fun watching him have to accept it because I don't think he even realized," Buss said. "I have to hand it to my fellow teams that they have come up with some really touching, thoughtful tributes.

"There's such respect, and that's an important lesson -- honoring your opponent and respecting them even though you want to beat them."

How then to explain the withering criticism Bryant has faced throughout his career?

"I just think that the criticism could only come from people who don't understand him," she said. "I understand that he's broken a lot of hearts. How many people did he stand in the way of winning the championship? Reggie Miller? Allen Iverson? Tracy McGrady? All these great players. I understand that part.

"But now after 20 years, he's going to inspire the next generation and the next generation and the next generation.

"The ripple will be part of our league for years to come."