July 18, 2024

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Jerry West, one of basketball’s greatest players, dies at the age of 86

Jerry West, one of basketball’s greatest players, dies at the age of 86

In his first season as coach, West led the Lakers to the best record in the NBA, 53-29, with Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s most valuable player, but they lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, the Portland Trail Blazers, led by him. By Bill Walton, who died last month. Two years later, Los Angeles lost again to the eventual champion, the Seattle SuperSonics.

West’s winless record during three seasons as coach was 145-101 — a credible resume, especially considering he had no prior coaching experience at any level. But it was not a rewarding experience.

Among other things, he had experienced two disturbing incidents. In one, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand when he punched the opposing quarterback, Kent Benson of the Milwaukee Bucks, after Benson elbowed him in the stomach. Several weeks later came one of the most shocking and disturbing events in league history: On December 9, 1977, when an on-court brawl broke out between the Lakers and Houston Rockets, Laker forward Kermit Washington threw a punch at the Lakers. Rockets team president Rudy Tomjanovic, who almost killed him and ended his career.

In a 2010 biography of West, Roland Lazenby wrote that “West was certain that talent replaced coaching in basketball,” and even though Cook sold the team after the 1979 season and the new owner, Jerry Buss, wanted West to stay. And he didn’t care about being on the bench. However, West had an interest in evaluating players and taking an executive role on the team, and in 1982, after a season that brought the Lakers, led by Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, their second championship in three years, Buss named him general manager.

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West was an active team builder, and his selections included several players who became Lakers: James Worthy (No. 1 overall in 1982, ahead of Dominique Wilkins), A.C. Green in the first round in 1985, and to replace Abdul-Jabbar, who retired After 20 years as a dominant player in the game, Vlade Divac, in the first round in 1989.