There’s No All-Time Lakers Without West
Look, let me make this simple. Jerry West IS the Lakers.
Everybody keeps coming out with these All-Time Lakers teams, and the more I see them, the more I can’t believe them. Most of them don’t include West.
They put Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant at guards and, usually, Elgin Baylor and James Worthy at forwards.
Hey, that’s a nice team. It’s just not the best team. The best team should have the five best players in Lakers’ history. And they are, unequivocally, Abdul-Jabbar, Baylor, Magic, Kobe and . . .you got it, West. I know, know, some of you will say that makes three guards. No big deal. You put Magic at the point, West at the shooting guard and move Kobe to the 3, where he plays a lot, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Worthy was a terrific player. But most of those picking him must be too young to remember Jerry. Because as good as Worthy was, he didn’t belong in the same league as West.
Trust me, if Jerry had been around in the days of SportsCenter and cable TV and the internet, you’d be watching his highlights all day long. How good was he? Scary good. Good enough to average more than 40 points for an entire playoff series. As a guard. On the same team as Baylor.
And you know how great Kobe has been at the end of games? West was better for a longer period. I know that’s hard to believe, but you trust the late Chick Hearn, right? There was a reason he called Jerry Mr. Clutch. It was the same reason the NBA used West’s silhouette in the league logo.
West could shoot better and quicker than any of today’s Lakers. Or anybody in the league now, for that matter. His jumper was pure artistry. He could drive. He could pass. And oh, how he could play defense.
The only reason West and Baylor didn’t win a handful of NBA titles is that Bill Russell, only the greatest winner in sports history, happened to be playing for Boston at the time. And even that wouldn’t have mattered if Elgin and Jerry had only been a few inches taller.
Polls like these always seem to favor the more recent players. I understand that. But nothing should diminish how good West and Baylor were. You talk about fun to watch. When those two got hot, it would rank right up there with Showtime at its best.
Now allow us to consider for a second West’s post-playing career. Let’s see, he was the one who brought Shaq to L.A. Then he made one of the great draft day trades in NBA history to land Kobe. And although I know he had retired as Memphis GM, I’m still not convinced he didn’t have something to do with bringing Pau Gasol to the Lakers.
Add it all up and there is nobody — that’s right, nobody — who has been more important than West in franchise history, Jerry Buss included.
So, please, the next time you read about somembody’s All-Time Lakers team and it doesn’t have West on it, just do what I do.
Stop right there. The rest isn’t worth reading.
Leaving Jerry West off an All-Time Lakers first team would be like leaving Sandy Koufax off an All-Time Dodgers team. It isn’t just wrong.
It is unthinkable.
— Steve Bisheff