“It’s about time,” Kobe Bryant said just weeks before Jerry West received his over-due immortalizing in bronze, as the logo’s statue was unveiled during the 2011 All-Star game at STAPLES. From one shooting guard to another, the Mamba recognizes Mr. Clutch’s greatness. Why wouldn’t he? If it wasn’t for Jerry West, Kobe Bryant would be wearing teal and white instead of purple and gold, and who knows what would have resulted there (am sure in some ways some of the same for Kobe at least). Mr. Clutch himself has imprinted more than his likeness for the NBA’s logo. He has also made many big plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. On and off the court.
There have been a whole host of NBA legends that have come and gone throughout the history of this great league, but make no mistake one of the greatest ever to lace up his sneakers was Jerry West. He wore number 44, but even after that was retired and raised to the rafters Jerry was so much more than a gunslinger.
So why did it take so long? Why is a man who is the silhouette of the association a shadow of success? Why did it take this long for a statue of Jerry West to be unveiled? I know the Lakers have a lot of legends to immortalize and they’ve started off right (Magic, Chick) but why have other sports stars been honored in stone prior?
It’s a good job the humble Jerry West isn’t one for individual honors, and also is used to waiting. It took over a decade and Wilt Chamberlain for the savvy guard to win his first and only ring. Still this is no excuse. West doesn’t just embody the NBA, he embodies the Lakers. After George Mikan in Minneapolis it was Jerry and Elgin Baylor that started things for Los Angeles. Ten years before Wilt, decades before Magic and Kareem, and almost half a century before Shaq and Kobe, West was the face of the Lakers . Along with Baylor, Jerry showed the NBA that the Lakers were here to stay.
West had offense, defense, hustle, vertical and shots in the clutch and from anywhere on the court (see, 1970 and Celtics, Boston). There where many points to why West was one of the best, and when he retired he topped the Laker history books as the teams highest scorer before Kareem took over the league (25,192). West was and is your prototype basketball player, and could dominate even today in high shorts and 70’s hair. That’s why the original and greatest still looks great between the small red and blue stitching on everybody’s jersey.
West wasn’t just a great player and GM, he was also a pretty decent coach. Sure he only made the Western Conference Finals once during his tenure (1977), but he led Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lake Show to an impressive 145–101 record. It would have seemed odd that after such a great start Jerry headed further upstairs until you realize what came next. There should even be another statue of him at a desk, working the papers like he did the floor.