Jerry West is one of the most influential players in Los Angeles Lakers history. He was the team's first superstar after moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960, spent 14 years there as a player and then almost 30 more as a coach and executive. All told, he has eight championship rings from his time with the Lakers. Yet he is still frequently ignored in discussing the team's illustrious history.
One such example? Team owner Jeanie Buss recently went on All The Smoke and named the five most important Lakers in history. Her choices? Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Phil Jackson and LeBron James. West was noticeably absent from that list, and as he revealed on the Hoop Du Jour podcast with Peter Vescey (h/t CBSLA), he was not pleased about that.
"I saw the other day Jeanie Buss made a statement, the five most important Lakers, one of the most offensive things I've ever heard in my life. I was there a lot of times, had a lot of success," West told Vescey. "Be curious to know if they would have had that success if I hadn't been there."
"And I don't ever take credit for stuff, I don't. When I was around, maybe I was just a good luck charm," West continued. "But I do know, that when this thing fell apart, there were a lot of years where they weren't very good."
The irony of Buss' list is that at least two of the five people she listed were brought to the Lakers by West as an executive. He maneuvered to draft Kobe Bryant in 1996 and he hired Jackson in 2000. While he was not the organization's top decision-maker at the time, he worked as a scout for the team when they drafted Magic Johnson (though some reports have indicated he preferred Sidney Moncrief in the 1980 NBA Draft). West also brought in Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent, another player who arguably should have made this list. He won three titles in Los Angeles. To date, James has only won one.
But West and the Lakers have had a complicated relationship for quite some time. He left the team in 2002 in part because of conflict with Jackson, who, at the time, was dating Buss herself. In 2007, Bryant publicly asked that West be rehired as the team's general manager. They stuck with Mitch Kupchak. West went on to work for a number of other teams, and now consults for the rival Clippers. In 2019, he called them the best organization he had ever worked with. West's son, Ryan, previously worked for the Lakers as a scout, but left the team in 2020 to join the Detroit Pistons.
Therefore, it makes sense that Buss would rather honor someone like James, whom she is currently working with, than West, whose relationship with the Lakers appears to be fractured. But that shouldn't undermine what West accomplished in Los Angeles. The people Buss listed were extremely successful with the Lakers, but only for a single generation. But West thrived as a player and then built championship teams around Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Bryant and O'Neal. Every ounce of success the team had between George Mikan's retirement in the mid-1950s through Bryant's 2016 retirement can be traced back to West in some way.
The Lakers have had so many great players over the years that someone like West, widely considered a top-20 player in NBA history, might not be one of the five best players in team history. But his overall contributions to the franchise are unmatched. In truth, no single person contributed more to the Lakers becoming the historic brand that they are today than West.