Jerry West spent his entire playing career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He served as the team’s head coach and, as general manager, set LA up for one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. But despite his allegiance to the organization, West previously said he would have spent money on a non-Laker if given a choice.
By 1982, Magic Johnson had established himself as one of the game’s brightest stars. Still, when asked about some of his favorite players in the NBA, West highlighted a different Michigan native.
Jerry West gave his heart and soul to the Lakers
Jerry West probably has Purple and Gold running through his veins. He did everything in his power to bring a championship to LA.
West became one of the best collegiate players in the country at West Virginia before the Lakers picked him No. 2 overall in the 1960 NBA Draft. That success translated to the pros as The Logo averaged 30.8 points in just his second season while also leading LA to the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately for West and the Lakers, the 1962 loss to the Boston Celtics would be the first of many.
The Lakers went to the Finals seven times between 1962 and 1970. They lost all seven times. Among the losses was a seven-game heartbreaker to the Celtics in 1969. Bill Russell crowned West, the only member of a losing side to win Finals MVP, after Game 7.
It would have been a travesty for one of the greatest players in league history to finish his career without a ring. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
West helped lead the Lakers to a championship as part of the 1971-72 squad that still holds the record for consecutive wins and is regarded by many as one of the best teams ever. He retired two seasons later, having finally accomplished the ultimate goal.
But West’s Lakers career didn’t end there. He was named head coach in 1976 and later moved into a front-office role as a team scout. He ascended to GM ahead of the 1982-83 season.
Given his time as a scout and affinity for the organization, The Logo had plenty of exposure to Magic Johnson. But rather than boost Magic as the next LA legend, West chose to glorify one of Johnson’s peers.
West labeled George Gervin the “one player” he would pay to see
Magic Johnson put the “show” in the Showtime Lakers. He, in essence, became the building block for Jerry Buss’ total organizational overhaul.
Indeed, Magic had plenty of flair in his game. He could grab rebounds and immediately start breaks the other way, firing off no-look dimes in transition or taking the ball coast-to-coast for layups. Johnson also had the charisma, with a charming personality and a smile that seemed to span the continental United States.
Still, West said he would have chosen to watch someone else over Magic. The Logo told the LA Times in 1982 (h/t The Athletic) that he’d opt for George Gervin.
“He’s the one player I would pay to see.”–Jerry West on George Gervin (1982)
Like Magic, Gervin rose to prominence as a standout prospect from Michigan. His local fame eventually became personified by the massive crowds he attracted at Detroit’s St. Cecilia’s.
Unlike Johnson, however, Gervin took an indirect path to the NBA, first starring in the ABA. Still, his incredible scoring ability made him one of the most iconic figures in basketball. His style certainly resonated with West.
Jerry West won a scoring title and ranks fifth all-time in points per game. He’s one of the best ever to put the ball in the hoop.
That said, Gervin’s scoring style had a legitimate influence on NBA history. He basically invented the finger roll and created angles from pretty much anywhere around the rim. The Iceman’s supreme finishing ability helped him capture four scoring titles. It also gained him the utmost respect of West, who deemed Gervin as the one worth the price of admission.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.