Jerry West is one of the greatest Lakers of all-time.
He spent his entire 14-year playing career with Los Angeles, making 10 All-NBA first teams and two All-NBA second teams and winning a championship. He coached the team three seasons, to a winning record each year. He then ran the Lakers’ front office for 18 years, winning five championships and setting the stage for a couple more.
In 2017, West wanted to return to the Lakers as a consultant.
By 2020, West was calling the Lakers a “s*** show.”
How did the West-Lakers relationship go so wrong?
The Lakers didn’t reciprocate West’s interest in returning five years ago. He joined the Clippers, and there was animosity between the Los Angeles franchises. They Lakers parted with West’s son, Ryan West, who had been working for the organization for a decade, in 2019.
Then in April, after Jeanie Buss left West off her list of top five important Lakers of all time on the “All The Smoke” podcast, West fired back on the “Hoop Du Jour” podcast by calling it “one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard in my life.” Buss had named Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe, Magic, James and her ex-fiancé and Lakers legend Phil Jackson. Back and forth, in the headlines and the hallways, the acrimony just kept building.
For West, though, the final straw came when the Lakers repealed the lifetime season tickets he said the late Dr. Buss had promised him so many years ago. Without any warning or explanation, his wife, Karen, received a text message from the Lakers last season informing her that the family’s seats for their games would no longer be granted.
“It was a cold phone text to my wife,” West recalled. “No one had the nerve to call me, but that’s how petty they are, OK? And I love the Lakers, OK? I love to see them do well. It’s great for basketball. I’m proud of everything that happened when I was there. I’m proud of everything that happened when I wasn’t there — the positives.
“But sometimes you feel like you’re discarded, like a piece of trash. And there’s a couple of people over there — not Jeanie — but there’s a couple of people over there that, uh … I don’t get it. I don’t. … I always had a great relationship with Jeanie — at least I thought I did. I don’t know where it is now.”
West isn’t demanding ultimate deference. He called Kobe Bryant the greatest Laker. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made vast contributions to the franchise.
But Jeanie Buss including Phil Jackson over West on her list of most important Lakers of all-time probably particularly ranked West. Jackson rubbed West the wrong way a long time ago.
That said, “one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard in my life” is pretty self-involved. But, hey, it’s West’s life. He’s getting asked about it and is, commendably, answering honestly.
The Lakers have their own side of the story. It’s somewhat strange to provide season tickets to an executive on a rival team. On the other hand, there’s something to honoring a promise. Plus, there might have been better ways to notify West.
Ultimately, this sounds like several minor grievances escalating into a full-blown rift.