Wiedmer: The Lakers Need To Show The Late Jerry West The Same Love Everyone Else Does

  • Thursday, June 13, 2024
  • Mark Wiedmer
Mark Wiedmer
Mark Wiedmer

The Logo.

When it’s pretty much an accepted truth that Jerry West was the inspiration for the NBA logo _ a silhouette of a lanky fellow dribbling a ball against a red, white and blue background _ does anything else need to be said about the greatness of West, who left us Tuesday at the age of 86?

Maybe just this: He is the only NBA Finals MVP to come from a losing team, earning that award in 1969 in a epic seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics. But it gets better.

He was also the NCAA Tournament MVP 10 years earlier, despite his West Virginia Mountaineers coming up short against California.

To be an MVP in two losing efforts basically drops the proverbial microphone on whether or not West just might belong among the Top 10 of all-time NBA greats, right alongside Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Kobe Bryant.

Consider that West was an All-Star Every … Single … Year of his 14-year NBA career.He was All-NBA 12 of those years. He led the Lakers to the Finals nine times, winning it all in 1972 with a team for the ages that won 33 games in a row at one point _ still a professional record for any team sport.

The Lakers’ kryptonite? The Boston Celtics, whom they were 0-6 against with West on the court as a player. Not that it was only the Celtics. The Lakers were also 1-2 in Finals However, this is also where his on-court genius was eclipsed by his off-court savvy as a front office executive. Two of the Lakers’ five titles with West in charge came against the Celtics in 1985 and 1987. He also put together the Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal teams that later three-peated as NBA champs.

Of the “Showtime” days with Magic running the show and Kareen dropping in his skyhooks, Byron Scott, one of the guards on those Magic-Kareem teams, Tweeted: “It’s because of Jerry West that there was even ‘Showtime.’”

Magic went further in a Tweet: “Laker Nation, the only reason we have 17 championships is because of Jerry West and his expertise drafting players, trading for players and hiring the right coaches.”

In all those years since West last had his fingerprints on a Lakers world title, there have been three more crowns won _ 2009, 2010 and 2020. The ties between West and the franchise he served in one capacity or another for nearly 40 years have been long severed by egos and ethos. The Lakers lost their way because they failed to appreciate their resident wizard.

As the brilliant LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote this week, the LA Clippers _ for whom West worked and advised at times _ were much more generous in their praise of and appreciation for West upon his death than were the Lakers.

To prove his point Plaschke referenced this 2022 quote from West that appeared in the Athletic: “One disappointing thing is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible. I still don’t know why. And at the end of the day, when I look back, I say, ‘Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared.”

There are always two sides to a story. While West was almost universally beloved by friends and foes alike _ the Celtic great John Havlicek approached him after that 1969 final to say, “I love you, Jerry” _ it’s fair to ask if he may have been too sensitive to the Lakers’ strong embrace of coach Phil Jackson, who also dated Lakers owner Jenny Buss for a time.

Still, it’s tough to know that West _ Mr. Clutch as he was known in his Lakers days _ The Logo as he came to be known in his later years, felt unappreciated by the franchise he gave his life to.

In more ways than West, this has been a tough week for the Lakers. University of Connecticut basketball coach Danny Hurley turned down $70 million over six years to remain with the Huskies and chase a third straight NCAA title. The dreaded Celtics are on the verge of capturing their 18th NBA title, which would put them one title ahead of the Lakers’ 17 for the most by any NBA franchise.

There is also the possibility, however small, that LeBron James opts to join another franchise as a free agent this summer, especially if he can play on a team with his son Bronny, who’s expected to go in the second round of this month’s NBA Draft.

But at some point in the near future, certainly by the start of the 2024-25 NBA season, the Lakers need to once more embrace the man once known as “Zeke from Cabin Creek (West Virginia) during his college days. Again, as Plaschke suggested, put a JW patch on the Lakers uniforms, name the court they play on “Jerry West Court,” something. Something BIG.

But do something that properly recognizes one of the finest players and people in both Lakers history and NBA history. Show that Havlicek is far from the only one to say, “I love you, Jerry.”

* * *

Mark Wiedmer can be reached at mwiedmer@mccallie.org

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