Jamaal ‘Silk’ Wilkes was so smooth sometimes his great, legendary play went unnoticed in the golden eighties years of his purple Laker reign. I guess that’s what happens when you play in front of a Hollywood celebrity crowd in the Forum of Los Angeles, playing ‘Showtime’ basketball with the greatest scorer of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the greatest passer of all time…a guy we all know simply as Magic.
The tricks of Silkes’ trade were celebrated, but he’s still remained an unsung and underrated player. A massive black and white portrait of him hangs in Tom Cruise’s characters’ office in nineties hit rom-com Jerry Maguire. Legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn coined the ‘Silk’ nickname along with his ‘slam dunk’ and refrigerator-cool phrases, yet some Lakers fans minds will run cold when Wilkes name is mentioned. This lack of knowledge needs to change. The light is on, the jello is cooling…but is anyone home?
Things really look to open up and change now, however. The corridors of the Naismith Hall Of Fame look to get even smoother this year as the squeaks of Silkes Wilkes’ sneaks look to step in and join last years’ inductee Tex Winter and a whole host of other Lakers alumni in the prestigious class of basketball greats. You know John Wooden would be so proud, but not surprised. You’d think there would be no better honor, but in the very same “whirlwind” (as Jamaal put it) week the Lakers organization announced they’ll be raising Jamaal Smooth’s number-52 jersey to join Wilt, Jerry, Elgin, Gail, Kareem’s 33, Magic’s 32 and James Worthy’s 42 in the rafters. This jersey retirement announcement coming off the heels of the Hall, couldn’t be any better for Wilkes…unless they made his honored jersey out of woven silk.
Weaving between defenders like he switched between the two and three spots, Wilkes had a smooth basketball touch and a jumper was so money it afforded the Hearn nickname, the ’20-foot lay up’.
From a big body and long arms, this shooting guard/small forward was a wingspan nightmare on defense. While just like Byron Scott and A.C. Green his ‘oop’ dunks that finished off Magic Johnson’s ‘alley’ really put the ‘show’ in ‘Showtime’. It was wow time when Jamaal amazed everyone, from the players to the fans, with his on court skill set. His versatile, tall, do-it-all presence really opened up the Forum floor for Pat Riley’s slick, smooth Lakers.
Jamaal won’t have to reside in the unsung ranks of 1980’s Lake Show greats that where just as much a part of the legendary legacy like Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo for long. This pillar really helped the Forum become a coliseum of gladiatorial basketball. Now his place in the Hall and the rafters is guaranteed by the Los Angeles Lakers and National Basketball Association powers that be.
The Berkley-born, California bred UCLA grad, really epitomized L.A. and the city of dreams (three times an All-Star, six times a champion – two in the NCAA) and it’s about time the town of stars and angles and the basketball world woke up and saw the light shining on this sleeper star that deserved more illumination. At almost 60 years of age the former Golden State Warriors Rookie of the Year’s steady play has finally produced the individual rewards he finally deserves. It’s all silky smooth now.