Say It Ain’t So, Jerry West: How Mr. Laker Became a Warrior

Jerry WestThe Logo in Warriordom?

The whole league can learn something from the increasingly unguardable Warriors, whose domination of the Spurs in San Antonio in Games 1-2 was on the tectonic level, suggesting a new geography in the West with the Spurs in danger of falling into the Gulf of Mexico. Or, if you prefer, the Rio Grande.

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Unfortunately for the Lakers, no one can learn as much from the Warriors as they can.

Put it this way: The Lakes could win 50 games next season and finish No. 3 in the Pacific Division again.

If the Warriors don’t have the greatest shooting backcourt ever, it’s close enough to give Laker fans nightmares for years with Steph Curry, 25, and Klay Thompson, 23. Harrison Barnes, 20, is a comer. Jarrett Jack, a senior citizen at 29, gives them the NBA’s best three-guard rotation.

Add one more guard so they can start three–as Mark Jackson did after losing David Lee–without running the risk of burning out Steph, who played 58 minutes in Game 1, and people will really be in trouble.

As is, the Warriors dropped 129-100 in two games on the No. 3 defensive team’s floor, leading by 16 before blowing Game 1, then by 20 en route to winning Game 2. Happily, or mercifully, for the Warriors, they have a new management team after years of farce, capped by owner Chris Cohan letting Pres. Robert Rowell emasculate GM Chris Mullin who spent his last season as a figurehead.

There’s a new GM, former player agent Bob Myers. More to the point, there’s a new outside consultant – Jerry West.

Yeah, the same Jerry West who appears in silhouette on the NBA logo and means even more to the Lakers, for whom he was so brilliant as a player and GM. (West also jerry-westcoached, taking a 40-win team to 53 in his first season, settling for getting out alive after two more that weren’t as good.)

To know West is to know how completely his unquenchable hunger permeates the organization to this day, inspiring and partnering with the unquenchable hunger of key figures like Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley and Kobe Bryant.

As a player, West was not only great, but endearing, wearing his passion on his sleeve in a way that could be felt in the last row. It was like that of only a few others, such as Bill Russell, Willis Reed, Magic Johnson, Lary Bird and, of course, Kobe, the warrior of his age. (Special commendation for the Jazz with Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton, whose hollow-eyed, gaunt-cheek desire was scary to behold.)

West was as sharp—and wacky–as he was driven. Having helped build the ‘80s Showtime teams, he pulled off one of the NBA’s all-time managerial feats, turning the Lakers around in five years from Magic’s 1991 retirement to the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant in 1996,

If West was a two-time Executive of the Year, that was a joke. Then-Jazz GM Scott Layden said the award should be named after him.

Still living in Lakerdom, West now commutes to the Bay Area as a Warriors consultant. How in the name of Chick Hearn did that happen?

It’s simple. The Warriors asked.

West left the Lakers of his own volition in 2000, leaving three seasons at $3.5 million on the table, having done all the heavy lifting that would result in their three-title run from 2000-2002 but so stressed out, he couldn’t take it any longer.

Of course, West had been threatening to go for years, as he threatened to retire nightly for the last half of his oft-injured playing career. Magic said he would believe it “when I see Jerry standing at the podium.” In the end, there wasn’t even a podium, or at least West didn’t stand there.

Publicist John Black announced he had resigned at a little gathering of press on the floor of the facility in El Segundo, attended neither by West or Buss. That’s West in a nutshell.

Next Page: How West Caught On With the Warriors

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