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    Swanson: A Lakers legend, Jerry West found a loving home with Clippers
    • June 13, 2024

    Regrettable, that the rift between the Lakers and Jerry West lasted until his death on Wednesday at 86.

    A shame that the man whose inspiring life and legacy can’t be talked about without mentioning the Lakers – for whom he played 14 years and whose front-office tenure led to five NBA titles – was on poor terms with the franchise when he passed away.

    West would have liked to end his NBA career with the Lakers – if they’d wanted him back. They didn’t, though, so in 2017, he joined the Clippers, with whom he was a celebrated and beloved, and yes, much-consulted consultant and executive board member.

    On Wednesday, his Clippers colleagues – from owner Steve Ballmer to Coach Tyronn Lue to members of the team’s media contingent – joined the rest of the basketball world in a public outpouring of sentiment that spoke substantively to West’s class and competitiveness, his astounding basketball sensibilities and sense of humor, his passion and place in history.

    Lakers owner Jeanie Buss also posted a personal tribute on Instagram and Magic Johnson, in one of his most heartfelt social media posts, assured fans that West, “despite holding jobs with other franchises … was a Lakers fan for life.” But the team itself put out just a succinct 55-word statement.

    “Jerry West is forever a basketball icon. He brought Lakers fans their first championship in Los Angeles in 1972 and was integral to another six titles during his time with us. Our thoughts are with the West family and the many NBA fans who honor his legacy. Jerry West will always be a Lakers legend.”

    This is the full Lakers statement

    — Daman Rangoola (@damanr) June 12, 2024


    Stinks, re-reading what West – the worldly and wise West Virginian – told The Athletic in 2022: “When I look back, I say, ‘Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared.’”

    Wonderful, though, to know that West landed with the Clippers for what he deemed his “last adventure.”

    Heartening, because I can tell you, in Clipperdom, the man is greatly appreciated. And it’s lost on nobody there how much he cared.

    Talking on Wednesday with members of the organization who worked closely with him in recent years, that – the great care he took with everyone and every task – was the prevailing sentiment.

    Just as Magic and Kobe Bryant before them, Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were among the Clippers who would receive regular tutelage from West, because he was such a regular presence at the practice facility. Just as he was at games. And at team officials’ meetings. And, often, plopped down in his colleagues’ offices for lengthy, illuminating conversation.

    He was always available to talk on the way home after games, to discuss what went well and not so well, what was going right and what could be better. He would frequently text players and coaches. He made everyone around him think, and, oh, did he make them laugh. “I can’t overstate enough what a fun person he was to work with,” said Lee Jenkins, the Clippers’ vice president of basketball affairs.

    West was locked in at 4 p.m. every day when NBA action began on the East Coast, and he used his remarkable mental bandwidth to store volumes of information about college prospects.

    And he lived for the moment, Jenkins said. A Hall of Famer, West rarely would reminisce about his monumental success – and then you had to pull those stories out of him. Or they had to serve a teaching purpose, said Mark Hughes, the Clippers’ senior vice president/assistant general manager.

    “He was as humble a person as you would ever find, his humility and his willingness to share was special,” Hughes said. “If you were Steve Ballmer or Gus working in the equipment room, he gave people his time. He did that.”

    One of his dearest friends on the Clippers’ basketball operations staff was Rishabh Desai, who was West’s junior by close to a half-century.

    As Ballmer put it in a sincere collection of thoughts online: “He cared about everything and everyone.”

    This is a hard day. I am honored to call Jerry a confidant, an advisor and a friend. Connie, my wife, called him my ‘basketball dad.’ He was absolutely my basketball sage: wise, loyal and so much fun. If you were in his presence, you felt his competitiveness and his drive. He…

    — Steve Ballmer (@Steven_Ballmer) June 12, 2024


    And Lue, a former Lakers guard drafted by West in 1998, said in his statement: “Whether I was playing or coaching, he was there for me with advice and encouragement. Sometimes, he was just there to listen.”

    When West was introduced as a member of the Clippers’ organization in Playa Vista on June 14, 2017, his presence alone instantly added a mountain of credibility to the franchise working to shed its decades-long image as a laughingstock.

    So even when the Clippers made controversial moves – say, trading Blake Griffin shortly after he’d signed a five-year $171 million contract to return – fans saw them differently with West aboard.

    As Brian Sieman, the team’s talented TV play-by-play broadcaster, explained: “Many people felt ‘if Jerry West approves this, so do I.’”

    But West never wanted credit: “Oh no,” he told Dan Patrick on his show shortly after the Clippers landed Leonard and George in one blockbuster night in 2019. “I should get very little (credit) at all. I’ve gotten far too much credit in my life, Dan, I really have.”

    What West wanted was to win. To be part of a group working together toward that goal.

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    He’d pulled the levers to bring Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant to the Lakers in 1996. West served as an adviser to Golden State Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber from 2011 to 2017, when they won the first two of their four most recent championships. And West helped turn the previously hapless Memphis Grizzlies into a playoff-caliber team.

    Of the Clippers, he said he’d “never been around any organization that’s better than this one, that’s for sure.”

    He wanted to help the Clippers level up, and in 2021, they took a step. Despite losing Leonard to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the second round, they still managed to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time. But there’s been no title.

    During an appearance on George’s “Podcast P” show a year ago, West bemoaned the team’s recent postseason misfortune, wondering if perhaps there wasn’t, in fact, a jinx or hex in place.

    I know this: If the stars ever do align and a championship does come the Clippers’ way, West will have helped point them in the right direction. And the Clippers will absolutely, happily continue to give him the credit he’s due.

    On behalf of Tyronn Lue, on the passing of Jerry West.

    — LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 12, 2024

    ​ Orange County Register