Saturday, July 2, 2011
HOW THE WEST HAS WON
Champion, Logo, Statue.
BY TIM DAVID HARVEY.
"It's about time". Kobe Bryant said just weeks before Jerry West received his over-due immortalising in bronze, as the logo's statue was unveiled during the 2011 All-Star game at STAPLES. From one shooting guard to another the Mamba recognises the clutches greatness. Why wouldn't he? If it wasn't for Jerry West, Kobe Bryant would be wearing teal and white instead of purple and gold and who knows what would have resulted there (am sure in some ways some of the same for Kob' at least)? 'Mr. Clutch' himself has imprinted more than his likeness for the NBA's logo. He has also made many big plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. On and off the court.
There's George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant for the Lakers alone and a whole host of NBA legends that have come and gone throughout the history of this great league but make no mistake one of the greatest ever to do this basketball thing was Jerry West. He wore number 44, but even after that was retired and raised to the rafters Jerry was so much more than a gun slinger.
So why did it take so long? Why is a man who is the silhouette of the associations logo to some a shadow of success? Why did it take this long for a statue of Jerry West to be unveiled? I know the Lakers have a lot of legends to immortalize and they've started off right (Magic, Chick) but why have other sports stars been honored in stone prior? I mean Oscar De La Hoya? He's great but come on! Before Jerry?
It's a good job the humble Jerry isn't one for individual honors and is used to waiting. I mean it took over a decade and a Wilt Chamberlain for the savvy guard to win his first and only ring, plus MVP trophy in 1972. Still this is no excuse. Jerry doesn't just embody the NBA he embodies the Lakers. After George Mikan in Minneapolis it was Jerry and Elgin Baylor that started things for Los Angeles. 10 years before Wilt, decades before Magic and Kareem and almost half a century before Shaq and the Kobe years. Along with Baylor, Jerry showed the NBA that the West had something to say and something to play.
West had offence, defence, hustle, vertical and shots in the clutch and from anywhere on the court (see, 1970 and Celtics, Boston). There where many points to why West was one of the best and when he retired he topped the Laker history books as the teams highest scorer before Kareem led the league (25,192). West was and is your prototype basketball player, even for today in high shorts and 70's hair. That's why the original and greatest still looks great between the small red and blue stitching on everybody's jersey.
West wasn't just a great player and owner, he was also a pretty decent coach. Sure he only made the Western Conference Finals once during his tenure (1977) but he led Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lake Show to an impressive 145–101 record. It would have seemed odd that after a great start Jerry headed further upstairs until you realise what came next. There should even be another statue of him at a desk, working the papers like he did the floor.
As the 80's came around Mr. West became a coaching dropout opting for the role as the Lakers General Manager. In this role Mr. Clutch became Mr. Craft as he built a team for the ages. Hollywood was waiting for the bigger picture and Jerry West premiered 'Showtime'. Bringing Magic, Worthy players and five gold championship rings. It was just like Christmas in sunny California.
Than deep into the 90's Jerry proved that lightening can indeed strike twice as thanks to his shrewd managing another dynasty reigned championships in Laker land. After building a nice squad around Nick Van Exel, Vlade Divac, Eddie Jones and coach Del Harris West went all Hollywood out in Los Angeles making major power moves. First he traded Vlade Divac for the draft rights of this kid called Kobe Bryant. Than he made a 'big' signing by bringing in Shaquille O' Neal and then he went even bigger and brought in six time champion coach Phil Jackson. The rest was NBA history. Once, twice, three times a champion and who knows what else could have happened if it wasn't for the death of a dynasty?
As Jerry moved from a Western powerhouse to lottery bound outfit he still prevailed in Memphis. He signed another coach of the year (Hubie Brown) and he did the real best with what he had with the Grizzlies. Since then for the Lakers their former player Mitch Kupchak has managed things very well, but there's just something about Jerry. West helped with the bringing up of Pau Gasol in Memphis, who now has been that extra championship ingredient for Los Angeles. Coincidence?
See Jerry, Jerry, Jerry has been great at three different roles in the NBA, legendary in fact. Sure the logo is an honor like no other but now that the Lakers have done a Spike Lee with the statue, the right thing has happened. West was more than just an incredible player (as if that wasn't enough). He has built more than one dynasty over the decades for the purple and gold. Who else has done that (apart from Red for the Celtic green)? So he may have only achieved one ring as a player (which is great anyway) but he's amassed eight in the boardroom. Now there's one guy who can definitely cockily straighten his tie after a good day at the office. Either way when Jerry has suited up, (sweats or slacks) he's helped the Lakers look more than sharp. Mr. Clutch is the Frank Sinatra of the NBA, 'Mr. Success' doing thing his way, the right way, the Jerry way. As a matter of fact he was and is still Mr. Lakers. Statuesque in more ways then one. Now that will always be set in stone.