As Jerry Returns to the West, His Legacy Lives On

With Jerry West returning to California next year as an executive in the front office of the Golden State Warriors, his legacy continues to rise.  West has had a successful and uncommon impact on the NBA.  He is known just as well for what he has accomplished in the front office as what he did on the court as a professional.  West has proven that he understands the ins and outs of the complex game of basketball, both on and off the court.  This is why West is known as one of the best players of all-time, and a great ambassador for the NBA.

Jerry West played for West Virginia University, where he was named as MOP for the 1959 NCAA Championship even though his team lost.  This made an impression on the then Minneapolis Lakers, who drafted West in 1960 as the second overall draft pick.  After the Lakers moved out to Los Angeles, the city seemed to have found its golden boy.

During his second season with the Lakers, West truly emerged as the team’s leader, averaging 30+ points per game.  West and Elgin Baylor made a phenomenal duo, nicknamed “Mr. Inside” (Baylor) and “Mr. Outside” (West).  The West-Baylor combination started a tradition and a trend in L.A. by structuring the team after a one-two punch of a guard and a big man.  Magic and Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe and Shaq, and Kobe and Pau are duos that proceeded after West and Baylor.

It was non other than the legendary broadcaster, Chick Hearn, who gave West an alias that remains with West to this day, “Mr. Clutch.” During his 14 year career, all with the Lakers, West was named as an All-Star 14 times, won one championship as a player (1972), and is the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award on the losing team in 1969.

West is considered one of the best Lakers of all-time and played with some of the most legendary players in basketball history, including Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 and had his #44 jersey retired by the Lakers in 1983.  Two life-long Lakers’ players have had their legacies represented as statues in front of Staples Center, Magic Johnson and Jerry West.  However, it was his contribution to the Lakers off the court that made him a living legend of the game.

After retiring from his playing career, West was hired as the head coach of the Lakers in 1976.  West had some success as a coach, leading the team to the playoffs in each of the three seasons he coached.  It wasn’t until 1979, when West became a scout for the team, that he found his niche that would lead to the highest success that the organization had seen.  In 1982, West began his 20 year career as the General Manager for the Lakers.  West has been named as the one responsible for bringing the “Showtime” era to L.A. during the 1980s, which led to five world titles.

Jerry West also saw a glimpse of the future when he watched a then-17 year old Kobe Bryant work out for the Lakers prior to the 1996 draft.  West drafted Bryant, Derek Fisher, and acquired Shaquille O’Neal via free agency to create his second dynasty.  When West decided to take a position with the Memphis Grizzles confusion surrounded Los Angeles.  After all, West had been a Laker since 1960.

After five years with the Grizzles, West made his impact in a relatively short period of time.  He built the core of the team that reached the playoffs for the first time in team history in 2004, and they were able to build on that success in 2010.  Last week, the Golden State Warriors announced that Jerry West will be joining their front office as a consultant and a member of their executive board.  Yet, it is his time and impact with the Los Angeles Lakers that make Jerry West a living legend.

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