Archive for Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Longtime Laker bids farewell

August 8, 2000

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— From Wilt to Showtime to Shaq, Jerry West was part of it all during his 40 years with the Los Angeles Lakers.

On Monday, he decided the time was right to leave basketball behind.

West, who couldn't even watch in June as the Lakers won their first championship in 12 years, retired, ending four decades with the franchise as one of the NBA's greatest players and top executives.

"The average person wouldn't understand the pressure and stress that I've felt in my life," West said in an interview with Dunk.Net released shortly after he announced his retirement.

"I need to get off this merry-go-round for a while," he said. "It's a sad and happy time in my life. I don't know anything else but the Lakers. This has certainly been more than a job for me as a player. It has certainly meant more to me than just an occupation."

West, 62, will be succeeded as executive vice president of basketball operations by general manager Mitch Kupchak, who has worked with West in the front office the past 14 years.

Kurt Rambis, interim coach for the Lakers for most of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, was promoted to assistant general manager.

"Obviously, Jerry West is irreplaceable. What he's meant to the Lakers' franchise over the past 40 years is immeasurable," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said.

West, who granted few interviews in recent weeks, didn't appear at an afternoon news conference at the Lakers' training facility in nearby El Segundo to announce his retirement and the promotions of Kupchak and Rambis.

"If you know Jerry, you know he wouldn't be here," Kupchak said.

"I know this is a little bit awkward, a little bit different," director of public relations John Black said. "This is the way Jerry wanted to do it."

Kupchak, 46, called West "my mentor, my guiding light, my best friend."

"Hopefully, I can walk in the footsteps of Jerry West," he said.

Coach Phil Jackson, who signed a five-year contract in June 1999, reportedly will have a stronger say in roster decisions when Kupchak takes over, although Kupchak said coaches have always been consulted when moves were made.

West joined the Lakers in 1960 as a first-round draft choice from West Virginia, and was acknowledged to be one of the NBA's finest players, retiring in 1974 with a 25.0 points per game average currently fifth-highest in league history.

He was held in such high regard by the NBA that he was used as the silhouette for the league's logo. West won one championship as a player, in 1972, and six more as an executive five in the 1980s.

There have been reports that West wasn't well physically, but when asked about his health, he replied, "I feel absolutely fantastic."

However, he added: "I know that my doctor is not disappointed that this is something that might be good for me, to just walk away from it for a while. I do have this addiction to this team, and addictions are hard to get over, as a lot of people are aware of."

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