Today, basketball great Jamaal Wilkes receives one of the highest honors an athlete in Los Angeles can get–his number fifty-two jersey retired atop Staples Center.
Nicknamed “Smooth as Silk” or just “Silk,” Wilkes was a California-bred 6’6″ small forward who also played shooting guard. He was born in Berkley, raised in Ventura, and won two titles at UCLA before winning his first NBA title with the Golden State Warriors.
However, it was his career as a Los Angeles Laker in which Wilkes is most recognized for.
Known for the “20 foot layup”–a term coined by none other than Chick Hearn to describe Jamaal’s’ accuracy as a jump shooter–Wilkes joined the Lakers prior to the 1977-1978 season as a free agent.
His shot–an unorthodox one which many coaches couldn’t figure out–was an effective one, as it notched him a career shooting percentage of 49.9, and even 53.5 at one point.
Also known for his smooth style and overall play, Wilkes fit in perfectly with the “Showtime” Lakers. Playing alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Wilkes aided the Lakers in winning three championships throughout the eighties.
His most notable contributions to the Lakers came during the 1979-1980 and 1981-1982 championship runs. During those seasons, Wilkes was the Lakers’ second scoring option behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; scoring 19.0 and 21.5 points, respectively. On a star-studded roster such as the “Showtime” Lakers, that statistic is nothing to overlook.
Perhaps his most notable game as a Laker came simultaneously with one of the greatest games by any Laker, ever: Magic Johnson.
The infamous game in which then-rookie Magic Johnson played all five positions while filling in at the center position for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals,while notching 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, largely overshadowed Wilkes’ performance. In that same title-clinching game, Wilkes also shouldered the scoring load with 37 points and 10 rebounds.
Even though Wilkes played a modest 12 seasons and was limited by injuries towards the end of his career, his impact was significant, and earned him an induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Tonight, the Lakers will honor yet another living legend by retiring his jersey.
Perhaps the best way to characterize Wilkes as a player was summed up by legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden, who explained to the New York Post in 1985 what characteristics a perfect player would embody:
“I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that.”
That, in itself, was an honorary moment; the Hall of Fame induction was a legacy cemented; and now his jersey will forever hold its place in the NBA by hanging in the rafters of the greatest basketball franchise in the world, alongside some of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever walk this earth.
Congratulations, Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes!