Legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn used to call Jamaal Wilkes baseline jumper a “20-foot layup.” It was that automatic. Magic Johnson would drive the lane, kick it out and you knew it was two.
And that shot, with its eccentric form that would make Shawn Marion wince — Wilkes swung the ball behind his left ear and shot it from basically behind his head — was how we often remember Wilkes.
But he was a lot more than that. He was a great player on both ends of the floor seemingly always overshadowed by being on the team with some of the best and most flamboyant ever — Bill Walton in college at UCLA, Rick Berry first then Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA. Wilkes never really drew attention to himself, on and off the court. His nickname was “Silk” because he was that smooth.
Pat Riley said Wilkes’ shot “was like snow falling off a bamboo leaf it was so smooth.” That would probably be the most poetic line Riley ever uttered, but it is true.
You never really noticed Wilkes during the game, yet you’d look up at the end and he’d have 25 points.
Look at it this way: When you talk about the great individual games every played Magic Johnson’s 1980s Game 6 in the NBA finals comes up — Magic scored 42 points and played all five positions that night, scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and 7 assists leading the Lakers to the NBA title.
Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds in that game, including 16 points in a crucial third quarter for the Lakers. But as always, he was crucial to the win but would be overshadowed in history.
He put up impressive career numbers in the NBA — 17.7 points and 6.2 points per game — but the accolades say why he is getting inducted: three-time NBA champion (one with Golden State, who drafted him No. 11 overall), three time NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, two time NBA All-Defensive team member. And as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame covers all levels of a person’s career we can throw in two-time NCAA All-American and three time NCAA champion.
Come this weekend, he will not be overshadowed. It is Wilkes deserved time in the spotlight. And in the basketball Hall of Fame.