He was a solitary figure. Shuffling along a street in downtown Houston. Hands stuffed in his pockets. Head down.
A few blocks away, his Lakers had just wrapped up practice. The next afternoon, they would beat the Rockets in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series.

Seven weeks later, his Lakers would lose in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons, ending the Kobe-Shaq Era, spoiling the great Payton/Malone experiment and placing a bookmark in the brilliant, intriguing title-making path of Phil Jackson.
But right now, on a balmy April day in 2004, he was simply a lone Laker, taking his thoughts for a walk.
No entourage. No dangling string of pretty women. Not a single Playboy bunny in sight. Not this time.
Right now, it was just Jerry Buss.
As we passed on the sidewalk, we exchanged glances and grins. Quick, brief. I took two more steps and thought, "There goes the most interesting person I've ever met and will never really know."
But knowing Jerry Buss isn't even necessary. Not to appreciate him, to admire him, to understand his impact. All that's needed is his name and maybe that title, the one he still prefers today — Doctor. The name says everything.
And is there any greater statement that could be made about a pro sports owner? Well, yeah, there is. But that, too, can be said of Dr. Buss, whose Lakers have won 10 championships.
The news — known by some people for a while now — finally leaked Tuesday. Buss is in the hospital. Cancer. He's 79 and said to be very sick.
So, on the final night before the All-Star break, his Lakers met the Clippers at Staples Center in a game that, at one point, sure seemed like a big deal.
It turned out to be just a game, a game won by the Clippers, 125-101.