Lakers Legend Jerry West: Building a Winning Franchise
As far as anyone can remember the Los Angeles Lakers have always been a winning franchise. Era after era the Lakers have been home to countless NBA superstars and legends. The Lakers also became the NBA’s first west coast team after moving from Minneapolis, MN to Los Angeles , CA.
Ironically, going into the 1960-1961 season, the Lakers were coming off a 25-50 record, landing them the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft. The Lakers would then go on to chose 6’2 guard Jerry West out of West Virginia.
West is most known today as “The Logo” for his likeness on the NBA’s official logo. He is also the man who traded for Kobe Bryant and signed Shaquille O’Neal in the same summer, a duo that sparked the Lakers reign during the late 90s and early 2000s. After a successful career as a player and general manager for the Lakers, West is now an executive board member and consultant for the Golden State Warriors.
West joined hundreds of fans, faculty and students at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC. He was a guest of USC Sports Media professor Jeff Fellenzer. West discussed things such as: his career, super stars in the NBA, the Lakers, the Warriors and the challenges of building and sustaining success in professional sports franchises. As part of his, “Building a Winning Franchise” segment West commented on Andrew Bynum and the Derek Fisher and Monta Ellis trades.
West spoke about the difficulties of dealing with different franchises and players, and how he goes to the franchises who he feels need the most help. He stated how regardless of his stature in the NBA, he never puts himself above anyone nor would he ever. He focused on the idea of not letting your life pass by, and when you attain success to always be humble and love what you do.
“I won’t do anything I don’t love to do, doesn’t matter how much money I’m offered,” says West.
Looking back at West’s career, in his 14 years with the Lakers he became the third player in league history to reach 25,000 points. He was voted into the All-Star game every year of his career, and led the Lakers to the NBA finals nine times. West was also the first-ever NBA Finals Most Valuable Player to win the award, but be on the losing team.
West has played with all-time greats such as Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. His obsession with perfection, and on-point instincts led him to be one of the greatest players of all-time. West’s quick decisions and executions where best showcased during the 1970 NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. West has considerably the best buzzer-beater in history after launching off a 60-foot shot that tied the game sending it to overtime. Although the Knicks pulled out a 111-108 win over the Lakers, West’s miraculous shot helped earn him the nickname “Mr. Clutch.”
Fortunately for us, we have been spoiled by Kobe Bryant’s clutch buzzer beaters. When the game is coming down to the wire, win or lose, we expect the ball to be in the hands of the Black Mamba.
“Some people aren’t afraid to have the last shot in their hand and take it,” says West, “[And] late in a game you always want the ball in the hands of someone that will decide the end of the game for you.”
Being the man who traded for Kobe Bryant, who was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, West describes Bryant as a son. West said that when he traded for Bryant he saw the talent. Over the years he has seen him grow and likes the way he is now, “serious.”
“The consistency of his effort will define who he is, and he is going to compete every night,” says West, “You can’t be great every night, but Kobe’s legacy will be strong…I want to see Kobe go out on top.”
West went on to highlight that work-ethic is a key component of a successful NBA career. He stated that he wants to see Bryant go out on top, because one of the saddest things to see in the NBA is, “a player who wants to play when they shouldn’t be playing.” West talked about how when it comes down to trading players it is heartbreaking, but you have to do what’s best for the team. He stated how the media and fans aren’t always going to like the trades that are made, but it’s all part of the business.
“What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right,” says West. “[When we] traded Eddie Jones people didn’t think that was a good move. Well I’ll tell you what that guy that we did trade for is still playing, he’s number twenty four I heard he’s pretty good.”
This year alone the NBA has seen some unexpected trades, most recently in the Lakers decision to let go of Derek Fisher, and the Warriors decision to let go of Monta Ellis.
“The hardest thing to do is trade a player and say goodbye…[it's hard to] cut a young player with aspirations to be great and you have to cut them because they aren’t good enough,” says West. ”[As for Fisher] they should of made the trade, and I drafted Derek Fisher and Derek is a terrific person. Sure he did a great job for the Lakers, but you can’t always let the older group stay in. Fisher wasn’t getting to the foul line, people were passing him up and he was making terrible shots. I think they made a good trade.”
West went on to say that acquiring Ramon Sessions was the right move, and although he hasn’t been dominant he also hasn’t hurt the team.
Now looking on to the Warriors was a different story. Being part of the executive board West had much to do with Ellis’s trade to the Milwaukee Bucks. When asked about Warrior fans booing the owner West was disappointed.
“I don’t approve of it. Do they want a mediocre team wining only 25 games a season? That’s what you were going to get. They deserve better up there. I’m telling you, blame [the trade] on me – I don’t care. That franchise is going to be good, believe me.”
West’s words have proven true in the past. Although he has made some controversial trades he seems to always strike gold. Before going to the Warriors he was the Director of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. He took a team that everyone had forgotten, and helped transform them into a playoff contender. He was also the man who traded Shane Battier to Houston for rookie Rudy Gay.
When building a successful franchise West stressed the importance of humility, work-ethic and teamwork. He also states that turnover ratio and rebounding are the most important statistics in basketball, because it reinforces teamwork.
“Football is really two different teams, baseball is individualistic, basketball is teamwork…Egos get in the way of success, the ability to play together is the most important thing in basketball,” says West.
Lack of teamwork has been the downfall of many NBA teams. Fans can always tell when their team’s chemistry isn’t in sync. The Lakers in particular seem to have had locker room issues in the past always appearing at the worst times. As we get closer to this year’s playoffs Andrew Bynum has come into question once again. Bynum has been highly criticized for his immaturity, lack of leadership and decision choices. His most memorable moment that brought his maturity into question was the hard foul he had on J.J. Barea during the 2011 playoffs versus the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite Bynum’s dominance on both sides of the ball this season, his behavioral issues seem to prevent him from being seen as a true leader. Some Lakers fans are hoping that Bynum could be the new face of the Lakers once Bryant retires. But others aren’t too confident that he has what it takes to lead the team. West had much to say on Bynum and feels he should take advantage of the opportunity he has in front of him.
“He’s big, he’s a talented player, I just wish he would realize how good he could be. If you read the newspaper he is getting fined for doing things. And I must say if I saw a player laughing on our bench when we were losing he would be fined. It’s not fair to coaches, players or fans. You would be shocked how much technical fouls cost teams games,” says West. ”[Regardless] I think Andrew is talented and very bright, and I think he started making money at a young age, but he will mature as they go along and he will get better.”
West also emphasized the importance of Bynum learning from the great players around him.
“The greatest learning tool you can have is watching a superstar. Watch how they do things, they have something special..it’s almost like they sparkle, I think that’s one of the greatest tools ever,” says West. ”When I was a rookie I would watch the great players very closely, and mimic what they do, to what I could do physically.”
West talked about how some of the greatest players that came out of high school had maturity issues, including Bryant and LeBron James. He explained that over time they learn the value of teamwork, and can become positive leaders for their team. West addressed Bryant and James critics, stating that the reason some people don’t like them is because of envy and jealousy. West also underlined the fact that winning a championship doesn’t automatically get you into the Hall of Fame.
“People think LeBron should win a championship now like his career is about to be over. Some people get championships who don’t even get in the game, and they have multiple rings. Well thank God they’re tall,” West said with a laugh. “LeBron is a good teammate and isn’t selfish enough. He made the worst decision [on how] he handled his movement to Miami, but I think he is the most unselfish player in the league.”
He commented on the fact that true superstars are rare in the NBA. He stated that although there is a lot of talent, there is something about players like Bryant and James that just stands out.
“To me a superstar is someone who makes his team better, and can put fans in the seats. Everyone talks about the motivation talks, but if you need motivation you’re in the wrong game. No coach could motivate me, I never wanted them to.”