Jerry West, the Laker icon with a statue in front of Staples Center who is now part of the brain trust of the Golden State Warriors, has been defending the choice of Kevin Durant to come West this summer. As you might expect from one of the guys who helped recruit KD to the Warriors.
This week during The TK Show, a podcast hosted by San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami, West took that a step further and said that if free agency had been around when he played he would not be the same Laker icon.
“I remember years ago, if I had an opportunity to leave the Lakers I would have left, for one reason: because I did not like an owner that was not telling me the truth. It would have made no difference what they would have offered me, I would have left. It’s easy to say after the fact, but players have earned the right to go where they want to go.”
The Lakers were owned at the time by Jack Kent Cooke, who was not exactly loved by the players. To put it kindly.
Today, if a player is frustrated with the direction the owner is taking the team, that player can leave as a free agent. Back in West’s day, there was no free agency as it exists now. West was essentially locked into his Laker contract and wasn’t going anywhere unless the team wanted to trade him.
This is not to say that Durant left Oklahoma City because of ownership. There were a number of factors that moved him.
Many players we consider franchise icons from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s would have had very different careers if they had the freedom of movement today’s players have. Free agency in the form we would recognize today didn’t arrive in the NBA until 1988. To suggest those older icons wouldn’t have used that power — or wouldn’t have teamed up with other stars — is to live in a fantasy world. Given the chance, those players would have bounced around just like today’s players do.
Unlike a lot of older players, West understands that.