In 2017, the legendary NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West – then a member of the board of the Golden State Warriors – sent shock waves through the basketball world when he announced his inauguration in the Los Angeles Clippers.
This surprises many, because the West is widely known to have played a crucial role in the success of the warrior dynasty. However, West could not resist the temptation to join the Clippers with Steve Ballmer, the then relatively new owner (he will take over the team in 2013), his good friend and business partner Dennis Wong and head coach Doc Rivers. Today we look back at the events that led the West to turn its back on the competition’s most successful franchise at the time and launch an exciting and impressive new process with the Clippers.
For me, life is a passion. Life is about being with the people you want to be with, the West told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. When I met Steve and Dennis Wong, they were great.
I think [Ballmer] will be one of the great owners of this competition. For a man who’s had a lot of success, you’ll never know if you’re close to him if you don’t. He just fell to the ground.
Dennis Wong, co-owner of the Clippers, is the most unpopular name in the mix, but seems to have played a key role in bringing the West into the team. Before he bought a small share in the Clippers, Wong also owned a small piece of land with the Warriors, where he had the opportunity to see the West at work and build a personal relationship with them.
Wong and Ballmer attempted a coup d’état to lure the West to Los Angeles, and according to the West itself, this was simply disrupted in their first encounter.
The connection I made with the Clippers felt very good right after that meeting, West says. On behalf of Doc and [Lawrence Frank, Executive Vice President of Clippers Basketball Operations] and the rest of the basketball players, I felt great.
The Clippers were a bit limbic at the time. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul – the two cornerstones of the team in recent years – were both working on expiring contracts and had no extension planned. They also knew that J.J. Radik, who has joined a free agency in the next low season, will demand a much higher salary – something the team could no longer afford.
I want Clippers to go where the owner and the people in the company want to go, said the West about the challenges we face. They have very high targets there, very high targets, and they thought I could help them. I’m glad I’m wanted. I’m glad they thought I could help them, and I hope I can.
West has a successful experience as a team leader. From 1982 to 2000, he led the Los Angeles Lakers for almost two decades. The West is credited with building the Showtime Lakers dynasty in the 1980s and laying the foundation for trio skating under Shakeel O’Neill and Kobe Bryant in the late 1990s and early 2000s. From 2002 to 2007, West also worked at Memphis Grizzly for five years, where he was appointed Executive Director of the League in 2004 (for the second time).
Speaking of the Lakers: Around the same time as Jeanie Bass in Los Angeles, they also rebuilt their front office, which was highlighted by the resignation of Jeanie’s own brother Jim Bass and Mitch Kupchak, respectively the executive vice president and general manager of the team. West has decided not only to participate in the restructuring of the Lakers, but also to make contact with the team’s opponents in the Clippers on the other side of town. Of course people had questions.
People are going to ask questions about Lakers, the West said. I really don’t have anything to say about the Lakers. Well, I don’t. I won’t say anything humiliating about the Lakers. It’s not like I’m competing with the Lakers.
It’s about trying to help the people who have the Clippers. I won’t be an outsider.
The West was not only responsible for the rise of the Lakers in the 1980s and again in the late 1990s, but also experienced this. He was a lifeguard for the Lakers during his season and played for the same team during his 14-year career. The result of 14 star performances, 12 All-NBA team selections, 5 All-Defensive team selections, one credit title, one assistant title, the MVP Cup in the finals and of course the 1972 championship.
The West is undoubtedly one of the greatest Lakers of all time – both on the ground and in the front line – so it’s only natural to question your decision to join the enemy. But, as he explained above, that wasn’t the problem.
After all, joining the Clippers was an opportunity for the West to make its magic work again. He had a vision of what the organization wanted to do and felt he was the right person to help them achieve their goals. Yet the West realized that leaving the warriors was not an easy decision.
I’m gonna miss this warrior organization so much. I’m really gonna do it, West said. But, frankly, I didn’t have to do anything. When I left there Monday night after their championship win, that was probably the worst feeling in my life as a basketball player. I knew I wouldn’t be involved anymore.
For me, the things I’ve always tried to do are challenges, the West said. I’m really determined. I’ve been him all my life. This is a new opportunity to compete in a totally different way.
At the time of writing, the Clippers have taken a big step from the Lobby City era to the beginning of a new day. In the summer of 2019, Los Angeles experienced the most successful off-season in franchise history when MVP defending champion Kauhi Leonard joined the team. Shortly after, the team was replaced by another superstar in the person of Paul George, who immediately made the team one of the favourites in the battle for the title.
You can be sure that the great Jerry West has played a major role in the growth of the Clippers in recent years.
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