Jerry West Isn’t Guilty (Not Yet), But His Laker Image Has Been Tarnished

Jerry West wasn’t questioned when he drafted James Worthy over Terry Cummings. He wasn’t questioned when he traded Norm Nixon to the Clippers for Byron Scott. He wasn’t questioned when he compromised his health and pursued Shaquille O’Neal. He wasn’t questioned when he told Bob Myers of the Warriors not to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. But now, West is being questioned publicly. Did he verbally agree to hand over $2.5 million, for access to Kawhi Leonard?

Accusations don’t necessarily mean truth. Certain things have to run their course, be proven legally. What is known is that a tape exists and Jerry West called his former team a sh*tshow. The disparagement of the Lakers organization and the implication that Kawhi Leonard is better than LeBron James, and that LeBron James would never make room for Kawhi Leonard, has stunned Lakers near and far. What happened to Lakers for life?

The crime, a nefarious sort of tampering by engaging with the best friend of Kawhi’s uncle, is soap opera-ish except it breaks NBA rules. You can’t talk dismissively about an NBA team if you are an NBA consultant. You cannot pay for access.  More than likely, it will come down to West’s word against his accuser, Johnny Wilkes. West has never had to defend himself in situations like this. He’s had power, influence, and the enduring myth of being the NBA’s logo.

Even if it’s not true, West perpetrated a crime very few Lakers ever do. He belittled the organization he was once devoted to. West is the greatest GM in Lakers history responsible for Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thomson, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Rick Fox Glenn Rice, Derek Fisher. Supposedly the Lakers frat is cultish, once a Laker always a Laker.

But something has happened to Jerry West over time that has made him look at the Lakers as an enemy. A lot of it has to do with what happened when Phil Jackson took over and Jerry West was pushed out the door. He feels he was never given enough credit for the 1999-2000 title team, that Jackson was idolized when it was West’s blood, sweat, and tears that were responsible for Shaquille O’Neal leaving Orlando, and for the Kobe Bryant gamble.

Who knew Jerry West was bitter at the organization he used to love? The same man who warned Kobe Bryant away from signing a free-agent deal with the Clippers because, as he put it, you can’t trust Donald Sterling, is a Clippers consultant. It should have been a red flag to Lakers fans when West took the job because since leaving Los Angeles West has been intentional. Memphis. Golden State. The Clippers.

Jerry West is not a Lakers for life. The perception was foisted upon him as part of the myth, that everyone who wins as a Laker, and is a champion and builds something over time, is attached until death. But Jerry feels betrayed and is itching to win a title with the Clippers.

If any of what Johnny Wilkes says is true, that West did promise him a golden parachute in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, well okay. You have to slay the beast however you can. It proves only that the Clippers desperation is mammoth. They needed Kawhi to be relevant after the Lakers snagged Anthony Davis.

I imagine Jerry West is embarrassed that all of this has blown up in his face. He’s always liked a low profile, to do his work quietly. He probably rues the day he met Johnny Wilkes but it is good for him that it is out in the open, how much he is annoyed by the entitlement and privilege the Lakers represent. It’s good to know where people stand. Are you with us? Or against us? The logo, it seems, has turned his back on his own history and wants his old team to fail.