Jerry West: Still Going Strong at 77

By Mitch Chortkoff

Sports Editor

Basketball fans admired Jerry West when he was in his 20s and 30s.

First, he and Elgin Baylor were superstars who introduced the NBA to Los Angeles.

Then in 1972 he and Wilt Chamberlain led Coach Bill Sharman's Lakers on a 33-game winning streak, which has never been equaled, and then the NBA championship.

Finally, West became the Lakers' general manager and presided over six more championship years.

He made the most spectacular front office decision in Laker history in 1996 by trading a solid NBA center, Vlade Divac, in order to draft high school phenom Kobe Bryant, then signed free agent Shaqille O'Neal.

There was a gap of several weeks, which West described as the most trying of his life, But he had the courage to take a gamble that became a rousing success.

I asked West for an interview recently where myself and Observer Sports columnist Bosmat Eynav could learn about the more recent Jerry West, the guy who is 77 years old (or young) now.

He granted the request and suggested the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd.

We met there for breakfast Monday and I asked how he has become a key consultant for the Golden State Warriors, who are about to begin a season defending their NBA championship-the first one the Warriors have won since 1975.

West had left the Lakers and in 2002 he took command of the Memphis Grizzlies, who had never been a playoff team.

"It was a great experience," said West. "Perhaps the greatest of my life. It was a small market team that showed considerable improvement. In my second year the Grizzlies won 50 games and qualified for the playoffs.

"But I was burned out. I resigned in 2007 and decided I didn't want to work in an office every day. I'd keep my eyes open for something that might come up but I didn't pursue jobs."

A competitor of West's caliber may have needed a year off but he still thrived on the challenge of putting a team together. And then Joe Lacob showed some interest.

"It was 2011 and he had just purchased the Golden State Warriors," said West. "He asked me to meet with him.

"He made me an offer and I said I'd think about it. Then I made him a counter offer and he accepted it."

It was decided that West would have the title of a consultant.

But with his years of success in the NBA he was more than a minor figure. His suggestions have been taken seriously.

"We have quality people in this organization,' said West. "Of course we disagree sometimes but we reason things out and come to a conclusion.

"The final decision may be made by the owners or general manager Bob Meyers or Coach Steve Kerr."

West isn't comfortable taking credit but I'm aware of two examples.

In 2011 the Warriors had a style of play similar to what they have now with one important difference. No first-rate big man.

With West's influence the Warriors traded away Monta Ellis, a swift high-scoring guard in order to acquire center Andrew Bogut.

"I remember how inpopular that trade was," recalls Bosmat Eynav, now an Observer columnist but then a Northern California resident who enjoyed watching the Warriors.

Says West: "It was an exciting team at times but it wasn't what we needed in order to be a serious playoff contender."

Roy Hibbert, who will be the Lakers' center this season, knew the Warriors made a good trade.

"Andrew Bogut is a friend of mine and I'll try to bring to the Lakers what he brought to the Warriors," said Hibbert. "Rebound, block shots and be a defensive presence."

Bogut didn't play a lot in last season's NBA Finals when the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers removed their centers and both used small lineups in several games.

But make no mistake about it. The Warriors were unlikely to have reached the Finals without Bogut's contributions over the 82-game regular season and earlier playoff games.

This season Ryan West, one of West's sons, has been given a promotion in the Lakers' scouting department. Ryan is given credit for believing in Jordan Clarkson, a second round draft choice who became a bright spot of the Lakers 2014-'15 season.

How does Jerry West feel about the Lakers so many years after he left the organization?

"I want them to succeed. Why wouldn't I?" he says. "But when they play the Warriors I want the Warriors to win.

" They employ me now."

West and wife Karen live in West Los Angeles but he flies to about 25 Warrior home games each season.

On the day we met West had suggested breakfast because he was flying to Korea a few hours later.

"I'm interested in doing some corporate work for the team," he explained.

I thought about how to end this column. I decided to point out that of all the great Laker players of the past West has had the most success as an NBA executive.

And he offers a thought about how well the Warriors have managed their salary cap space.

"Besides being NBA champions the Warriors have the cap space to sign the number one free agent nest summer," he said.


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