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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Robert Marvi

Lakers legend Jerry West dies at age 86

When people debate who was the greatest Los Angeles Lakers player of all-time, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson are the names that come up most. Less frequently, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s name is mentioned.

But an argument could be made that Jerry West was the greatest Laker ever, if one doesn’t limit the debate to players.

On Wednesday, West passed away at age 86.


“Jerry West, who was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame three times in a storied career as a player and executive and whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning at the age of 86, the LA Clippers announced.”

West was taken by the Lakers with the No. 2 pick in the 1960 draft, and he teamed with Elgin Baylor to put them on the map as they moved to Los Angeles that same year. They would reach the NBA Finals seven times in West’s first decade with them, only to lose each time, usually to the Boston Celtics.

Even the trade for Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 wasn’t enough to get L.A. over the hump, and by the start of the 1970s, it looked like the team would never win it all.

Each finals loss took a toll on West. Decades before the world was introduced to Kobe Bryant, West was basketball’s quintessential competitor and clutch performer, leading to him being nicknamed “Mr. Clutch.” He didn’t want to win — he needed to win, and his repeated championship losses made him contemplate quitting.

But he stuck around long enough to help lead the Lakers to their first NBA championship since moving to Southern California in 1972. After retiring in 1974, he spent three years as their head coach in the late 1970s, then moved into the front office just as the Showtime era began.

Starting in 1982, he served as L.A.’s general manager, and in that capacity, he turned Showtime from a great team to a dynastic one and arguably the greatest team ever. The Lakers won five world titles in the 1980s, and they became the first team since 1969 to win back-to-back titles in 1988.

Magic Johnson’s abrupt retirement in 1991 forced them to rebuild earlier than expected. But West shook the NBA landscape when he brought in both Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the summer of 1996, which eventually started another Lakers dynasty that yielded five rings.

West left the Lakers in 2000, just after they won it all for the first time since 1988. Afterward, he served in the front offices of the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and most recently the Los Angeles Clippers.

He retired as a player with 14 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA First Team nods, four All-Defensive First Team selections and one scoring title. He was named the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 even though the Lakers lost to the Celtics in Game 7 by two points.

His 27.0 points a game career scoring average still ranks eighth all time, and he has the fifth-highest career playoff scoring average at 29.1 points per game.

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