Lakers Honor Jerry West With Statue At Staples Center
NBA legend Jerry West pauses during his speech after the unveiling of his statue outside Staples Center.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — When Jerry West was joined Thursday evening by his family and asked to pull the cord and unveil his bronze statue on Staples Center's Star Plaza, he turned away so fast that you briefly saw the Hall of Fame guard's quickness that could drive past a defender to make a jumper, then retreat back to play defense in one fluid motion.
It is West’s modesty and game that got him to that moment, where emotions came after a flurry of speeches honoring the former Laker guard and general manager by a legacy of friends made of former teammates, opponents and bosses.
West, 72, looked uncomfortable when listening to accolades and praise from NBA Commissioner David Stern, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, former Lakers coach Pat Riley; plus players from teams he built, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Ervin "Magic" Johnson and via tape, Kobe Byrant.
"Jerry West is the president of the world of basketball," said Riley, who had to guard West as a member of the Lakers' practice squad. "He taught me about greatness."
West's professional career started when the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960. Since then he has become an icon for the sport that that today has an international platform that can be seen throughout this week's All-Star Game.
"As you all know, Jerry is the logo man, but to us, Jerry wasn't a silhouette," said former Celtic Bill Russell, who confessed that he changed his green shirt to a blue for the occasion. "He was a man with a soul."
"He is a great person to be around, unless he loses a game," noted former teammate Elgin Baylor, who West later said should have his own statue on Star Plaza.
West thought no one would show up, said former Laker Showtime guard Magic Johnson before adding his praise. Then he turned to tell West with an authoritative smile "At least enjoy it for an hour."
"Here is a man whose statue shoulda been out here, even before mine," Johnson added. The former Laker point guard was the first to be bronzed in a plaza that now also includes Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya—who were in the crowd—and the late Chick Hearn.
“I really want to thank you for coming out tonight,” West said to a crowd that included current Laker center Pau Gasol as well as former Lakers Shaquille O'Neal, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis and Norm Nixon. “It’s more meaningful than perhaps this statue.”
Then the Laker known as "Mr. Clutch" stopped fighting emotions and took it all in, at least for a moment.