SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers legend Jerry West, ‘Mr. Clutch, dies

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

It’s been a bad week in Lakers land. 

First there was the news June 10 that Dan Hurley was not interested in the Lakers’ head coaching job.

Two days later, Lakers legend Jerry West died at the age of 86. West spent all of his playing career and most of his post-playing career with the Lakers before going on to success as the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies from 2002 to 2007 and as a consultant to the Golden State Warriors from 2011 to 2017 and then with the Clippers since then.

Ironically, it was the Clippers, not the Lakers, that announced his death.

With the help of teammate and fellow NBA legend Elgin Baylor, West made the Lakers a success in Los Angeles after they moved here from Minneapolis prior to his rookie season in 1960-61. 

An All-American out of the University of West Virginia, West played in the NBA All-Star Game all 14 seasons of his career. He made the all-NBA team 12 of 14 seasons and was on the all-defensive team five times.

Over his career, he averaged 27 points, 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds a game. He retired after an injury-plagued season in 1973-74 with 25,192 points, which at the time was the third best all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.

West and Baylor led the Lakers into the playoffs every year they played together, but six of those years the Lakers met the Boston Celtics in the finals, losing all six times.

In the 1969 NBA Finals, West averaged 37.9 points a game and was selected the most valuable player in the series, the only time a member of the losing team has been the finals MVP in the history of the NBA.

He earned the nickname Mr. Clutch for his ability to make important shots at crucial points of games. His mist famous came in game three of the 1970 NBA Finals when he hit a 60-foot shot as time expired to send the game into overtime.

The Lakers finally won the NBA title in 1972 — the year Baylor retired. West averaged 25.8 points and 9.7 assists a game during the regular season and another 19.8 points and 8.8 assists in the finals against the New York Knicks, which the Lakers won in five games.

Center Wilt Chamberlain was selected the MVP of that series after averaging 19.4 points and 23.2 rebounds a game.

After retiring as a player, West coached the Lakers for three seasons from 1976 to 1979. He then moved into the front office where he was the architect of the Showtime era Lakers that won five NBA titles in the 1980s led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

In a two-week span in 1996 he traded Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant and then signed Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent, paving the way for the Lakers to win three straight NBA titles from 1999 to 2001. 

In college, he was a three-time All-American at West Virginia, averaging 33.7 points and 13.3 rebounds a game. He also played on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal in Rome.

He was such an accomplished player that the NBA used a silhouette of him as the league’s logo.

He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 for his playing career and again in 2010 as part of the 1960 Olympic team. He will be inducted a third time in October for his contributions to the game after his retirement.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said “Jerry West was a basketball genius and a defining figure in our league for more than 60 years.”

The Lakers have had some of the greatest players in the game throughout their history, and West belongs right there with Magic, Kobe, Kareem and Shaq. 

On X, Magic Johnson wrote a lengthy tribute to West, citing their long history together. 

“Beyond his basketball accolades as a player and NBA executive, Jerry West was a great man, a leader of men, fiercely loved his family and friends,” he wrote. “The only reason we have 17 NBA championships is because of Jerry West and his expertise drafting players, trading for players and hiring the right coaches. 

“Today is a sad day for basketball fans and sports fans across the globe.”

His death made a bad week for Lakers fans worse.

Expectations were high June 7 when news broke that the Lakers were trying to sign Dan Hurley to replace Darvin Ham as head coach.

Hurley has coached the University of Connecticut to back-to-back NCAA championships and has a great basketball pedigree.

His father was a longtime high school coach in New Jersey. His brother Bobby starred at Duke and played five years in the NBA in the 1990s, mostly at Sacramento.    

Danny Hurley played college basketball at Seton Hall and then went into the coaching profession, serving as an assistant under his father at St. Anthony High School, before coaching for 10 years at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, which he built into one of the top high school programs in the country.

He then moved on to college coaching, first at Wagner for two years followed by six years at Rhode Island.

He took over the UConn program in 2018 and has won 70% of his games there besides winning back-to-back titles.

The search for a new head coach continues for the Lakers. JJ Redick remains one of the top candidates and James Borrego, a former coach with the Carolina Hornets who was the associate head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans this past season, is also in contention for the job.

Team officials say they plan to have a new coach in place before the NBA Draft, which takes place June 26-27. 

While the Celtics are playing for an 18th NBA title, the Lakers are stuck at 17 and appear almost desperate to find a replacement for Ham.

The team has been through six head coaches in the 13 years since Phil Jackson retired for the second time in 2011.  

Only Luke Walton and Frank Vogel lasted more than two years and Vogel was fired less than two years after winning the 2020 NBA title.

Ham took the team to the Western Conference finals in 2023, but was fired after the Lakers were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs this year.

The presence of LeBron James looms over every decision the Lakers make these days. James still hasn’t said whether he will be back next season (he has until June 30 to decide) and conjecture that he is pressuring the Lakers to draft his son his rampant throughout the city and the league.

It doesn’t make the search for a new coach any easier and also raises concerns about who is really running the Lakers. Until a new coach is in place, those questions will persist.

SERIES PREVIEW?: A three-game series in early June is not necessarily a predictor of the World Series in October, but the Dodgers have to be happy winning two games out of three in Yankee Stadium last weekend.

The series opener June 7 was a playoff-caliber game with the Dodgers and Yankees locked up in a scoreless tie until the Dodgers broke through in the 11th inning for a 2-1 win.

Outfielder Teoscar hit a two-run double in the 11th inning to give the Dodgers the win after Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits while striking out seven.

The Dodgers put on their hitting shoes the next night, blowing the game open with seven runs in the last two innings on their way to an 11-3 win. Hernandez was again the hitting star with two home runs, including a grand slam, and driving in six runs. Rookie starting pitcher Gavin Stone won his seventh game of the season. 

The Yankees salvaged the finale of the series with a 6-4 win June 9. Tyler Glasnow, who started the season 6-2, is now 6-5 after being touched up for a three-run home run by former San Diego Padre Trent Grisham in the sixth inning.

Hernandez hit his third home run in the series and ended up with 9 runs batted in during the three-game series. He is now hitting .266 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI. On a team with some great hitters, he leads everyone in homers and RBI.

NEW COAT OF PAINT: The Chargers opened their mandatory minicamp June 11 in Orange County with new coach Jim Harbaugh comparing the off-season progress to painting a house.  

“It’s like the first coat of paint, second coat of paint, we’re at like the third or fourth coat of paint right now,” Harbaugh said. “Feels good that we’re getting better at football.”

Asked his expectations for the upcoming season, Harbaugh said: “My expectations, they’re high. If you don’t like high expectations, then you probably don’t like to compete.” 

The Chargers will practice for three days this week and then take a six-week break before starting training camp in late July. 

“I think I have a pretty good grasp of what can be seen now in the offseason,” Harbaugh said after the first day of workouts. “But there’s definitely positions that require the pads to be on to really have a true sense.”

Harbaugh was hired in January after leading the University of Michigan to the NCAA championship last year.

He takes over a team that was 5-12 last season and is overhauling its offense. Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, along with running back Austin Ekeler are gone from last year’s team.

Quarterback Justin Herbert is entering his fifth year after missing four games last season with a broken finger. 

In four years with the Chargers, Herbert has led them to a 30-32 record in his 62 starts.

His best year was 2021 when he passed for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns.

The Chargers open the season Sept. 8 at home against the Las Vegas Raiders.

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