When it comes to the history of the Los Angeles Lakers, no one did more to build them into the gold standard of basketball than Jerry West.
Through four decades as a Hall of Fame player, head coach, scout and executive, he put the team on the map, then built them from a good franchise into the best and most famous one in the NBA.
During his career, West took on the huge burden of withstanding the inevitable ups and downs to get the franchise back on top after every failure and setback.
On Aug. 7, 2000, after the Lakers had won their first championship in a dozen years, he decided that the stress of his job was too much, and he decided to step down.
Since then, West has only added to his already loaded resume.
A look at West’s career
After growing up in rural West Virginia and starring at West Virginia University, West was taken with the second overall pick in the 1960 NBA Draft by the Lakers.
They had just moved to L.A., and they badly needed stars to promote them and the sport of basketball to a metropolis that was, at the time, mostly preoccupied with baseball and football.
West had a solid rookie season, then emerged as a bona fide superstar in his second season, averaging 30.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Along with fellow superstar Elgin Baylor, he led the Lakers to the NBA Finals that year.
Through the rest of the 1960s, West would help carry L.A. to the championship series five more times, and along the way, he gained a reputation for performing late-game heroics, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Clutch.”
Unfortunately, the Lakers lost every one of those championships to the same team: the Boston Celtics, and three times they lost to them in a close seventh game. In 1970, they went down in seven games again, this time to the New York Knicks.
Although West finally got his ring in 1972, he had become jaded from all those Finals losses and didn’t experience the joy that usually comes with such an accomplishment.
He retired as a player in 1974, and his career averages of 27.0 points a game in the regular season and 29.1 points in the postseason are still among the best ever.
West spent three years as the Lakers’ head coach in the late 1970s, then another three years as a scout before becoming their general manager in 1982.
In that role, he inherited a great team led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that had won two titles in three years. West helped it go from a great team to arguably the greatest team ever by the middle of the decade through some shrewd trades, draft picks and free agent signings.
After the “Showtime” era ended with Johnson’s HIV-positive test and retirement in 1991, West worked his own magic, landing Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant just five years later to start a new dynasty.
After departing from the Lakers, he spent several years with the Memphis Grizzlies and took them from a struggling expansion team to a respectable playoff squad.
He moved on to become an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors in 2011. In that role, he transformed a franchise that had been a laughingstock into a dynasty.
Today, West has been able to remain in his adopted hometown of L.A. by accepting an executive board member role with the Los Angeles Clippers. Since taking that position, the Clippers have gone from missing the playoffs to becoming a perennial title contender.
It seems like everywhere he has gone, everything West has touched has turned into gold.
No matter how much he keeps distancing himself from the Lakers, he will always be most associated with them and the success they have had.