Jerry West is considered by many to be the among greatest Los Angeles Lakers in history.
West was a college basketball sensation prior to coming into the NBA. In the 1959 NCAA tournament, West would lead the West Virginia Mountaineers to the NCAA finals, where they lost by 1 to the California Golden Bears. Making it to the finals and coming up just short would unfortunately become a theme in West’s career.
West was the leading scorer in the game with 28 points on 10-21 shooting. Despite losing in the finals, he was named NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, a rare feat for a player from the losing team.
West began his NBA career with the Minneapolis Lakers, who selected him with the 2nd overall pick in the 1960 amateur player draft.
He was just behind guard Oscar Robertson, who led the NCAA in scoring for three-straight seasons. He was also playing for the University of Cincinnati and was desperately wanted by the Cincinnati Royals professional team, who had the first overall pick.
West had great success with the Lakers. When he joined the Lakers they already had Elgin Baylor, and they formed one of the greatest duos in NBA history. West established himself as one of the best shotmakers in the NBA, and his ability to spread the floor made it easier for Baylor to score in the paint.
Together the duo would make 7 Finals appearances with the Lakers, where they lost 7 times to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics at that time had the best defensive center in the NBA in Bill Russell, and the Lakers really had no good answer for him and for the Celtics’ team-oriented, fast-breaking style.
To help the Lakers win a championship, Wilt Chamberlain was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in 1968. The “big-three” of Wilt, Baylor, and West would form one of the first “super teams” in NBA history.
The Lakers appeared unstoppable, until they faced the Celtics in the 1969 NBA Finals once again. This time, West won Finals MVP, but the Lakers still came up a little short, losing to the Celtics in a 7 game series.
While playing alongside Chamberlain, the Lakers would lose another three times in the NBA finals before finally winning a championship in 1972. That Lakers squad also recorded the best regular season record in NBA history (at the time), winning 69 games.
Chamberlain would remain with the team for one more season, but the Lakers would go on to lose in the 1973 Finals to the New York Knicks.
In his career with the Lakers, West made ten Finals appearances, winning just the one championship. When West retired in 1974, he was the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer and was top 5 in career assists. He was also the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff assists and points. Even in 2020, West remains the all-time leader in points in the finals.
Career after the NBA
After he retired as a player, West quickly transitioned into the head coach of the Lakers, bringing them to the Western Conference Finals
He soon became the general manager of the Lakers. As an executive and general manager, he would go on to win 8 more championships with the team. This included leading the Lakers during the 1980s “showtime” era.
West was also the executive of the Lakers during their short rebuilding period following Magic Johnson’s retirement. West signed Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent and traded for Kobe Bryant on draft day. The Kobe and Shaq duo would become one of the most dominant offensive duos in NBA history in their short time together, winning three titles
He also helped build the Golden State Warriors dynasty in the 2010’s, winning two more championships with the team.