Jerry West is considered one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all-time, and is a player that is constantly mentioned among the league’s best. Although West did not win championships like Bill Russell or Michael Jordan, he has the respect of many fans and NBA legends.
Every time the NBA is shown on television, fans get a glimpse of West in the league’s logo. This man changed the way the game was played and will always be remembered.
Although current Lakers fans may not have seen West play during his prime, they likely remember his tenure in the team’s front office. West was an assassin on the court when he used to suit up, but he was just as dangerous behind the scenes. West made vital acquisitions while with the Lakers, with two of them being the most decorated moves in league history.
West brought the young Kobe Bryant to the team on draft day and later signed Shaquille O’Neal, and those two repaid West for his work by winning three consecutive titles. However, Lakers fans may not know how much of a struggle it was for West to bring in Shaquille O’Neal from the Orlando Magic.
“When the fruition of it came, I was exhausted,” West told The Times in the past year. “I had to go to the hospital. I don’t sleep a lot anyway and have a very inquisitive mind. When you’re like that, it creates more problems for you.”
West and Lakers owner Jerry Buss wanted to do whatever it took to put together a championship team and they did not want to rest until they did. The Lakers had been eyeing O’Neal for quite some time, and they had to figure out a way to clear cap space for him. On Draft day, 1996, the Lakers traded Vlade Divac to the Hornets for Kobe Bryant, which gave the team some cap flexibility. At that time, Los Angeles offered O’Neal a seven-year, $95 million deal.
O’Neal was ready to sign with the Lakers then, but the Magic swooped in and topped the offer. So as a result, West had to trade Anthony Peeler and George Lynch so they could give O’Neal a more lucrative deal. After the trade, the Lakers presented Shaq with a seven-year, $120 million deal, and the center accepted.
“If you’re competitive and you want something, you’re going to try to find a way to get it,” West said. “You realize certain players can make a significant impact on your winning and losing.”