The Los Angeles Lakers have a long and storied history, filled with a who’s who of NBA stars. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem-Abdul Jabaar, Elgin Baylor, George Mikan, James Worthy…the list goes on and on. While many believe Bryant has claimed the title of “Greatest Laker of All-Time”, one name that will alway be in the conversation is Jerry West.
West spent his entire 14-year NBA career playing in Los Angeles for the Lakers, becoming one of the team’s first great guards. He could do it all: score, pass, rebound, defend. Whenever the team needed him, there was West, ready to assume whatever role was necessary in order to win. The late, great, Chick Hearn nicknamed him “Mr. Clutch”, due to West’s habit of hitting timely shots when the team needed it.
Despite West’s deep ties to the Lakers organization, he has taken roles with other clubs and is currently a board member for the Golden State Warriors. He recently appeared on “The TK Show” with Tim Kawakami of The Mercury News, where he stated that he would have left the Lakers if he had been given the chance:
Free agency gives you a right to choose where you want to play. I remember years ago, if I had an opportunity to leave the Lakers I would have left, for one reason: because I did not like an owner that was not telling me the truth. It would have made no difference what they would have offered me, I would have left. It’s easy to say after the fact, but players have earned the right to go where they want to go.
West was using his desire to leave the Lakers, the organization he will forever be associated with, to help explain why league owners and Commissioner Adam Silver should not be upset with Kevin Durant for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors.
West’s relationship with the Lakers grew rocky at the conclusion of his career, as he wanted to re-negotiate his contract and continue playing but then-owner Jack Kent Cooke wasn’t interested in going that route. West retired and sued Cooke for back wages and violating a verbal agreement they had regarding West’s post-playing career. Cooke and the Lakers responded by counter-suing West for the revenue they lost as a result of his retirement.
Eventually, the surreal lawsuits were dropped when West agreed to become the Lakers’ head coach, and he later went on to help assemble the fabled Showtime Lakers as the team’s General Manager. West also groomed current GM Mitch Kupchak, so he has certainly given a lot to the organization. We can only imagine what things would have been like today had he been able to walk away from the organization that he is synonymous with.