Work in Sports
Into the sunset
Jerry West retires as Lakers' executive vice president
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- From Wilt to Showtime to Shaq, Jerry West was part of it all during his 40 years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Monday, he decided the time was right to leave basketball behind.
West, who couldn't even watch in June as the Lakers won their first championship in 12 years, retired, ending four decades with the franchise as one of the NBA's greatest players and top executives.
"The average person wouldn't understand the pressure and stress that I've felt in my life," West said in an interview with Dunk.Net released shortly after he announced his retirement.
"I need to get off this merry-go-round for a while," he said. "It's a sad and happy time in my life. I don't know anything else but the Lakers. This has certainly been more than a job for me as a player. It has certainly meant more to me than just an occupation."
West, 62, will be succeeded as executive vice president of basketball operations by general manager Mitch Kupchak, who has worked with West in the front office the past 14 years.
Kurt Rambis, interim coach for the Lakers for most of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, was promoted to assistant general manager.
"Obviously, Jerry West is irreplaceable. What he's meant to the Lakers' franchise over the past 40 years is immeasurable," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said.
West, who granted few interviews in recent weeks, didn't appear at an afternoon news conference at the Lakers' training facility in nearby El Segundo to announce his retirement and the promotions of Kupchak and Rambis.
"If you know Jerry, you know he wouldn't be here," Kupchak said.
"I know this is a little bit awkward, a little bit different," director of public relations John Black said. "This is the way Jerry wanted to do it."
Kupchak, 46, called West "my mentor, my guiding light, my best friend."
"Hopefully, I can walk in the footsteps of Jerry West," he said.
Coach Phil Jackson, who signed a five-year contract in June 1999, reportedly will have a stronger say in roster decisions when Kupchak takes over, although Kupchak said coaches have always been consulted when moves were made.
West joined the Lakers in 1960 as a first-round draft choice from West Virginia, and was acknowledged to be one of the NBA's finest players, retiring in 1974 with a 25.0 points per game average -- currently fifth-highest in league history.
He was held in such high regard by the NBA that he was used as the silhouette for the league's logo, and was honored as one of the league's 50 greatest players in 1997.
West won one championship as a player, in 1972, and six more as an executive -- five in the 1980s.
There have been reports that West wasn't well physically, but when asked about his health, he replied, "I feel absolutely fantastic."
However, he also said: "I know that my doctor is not disappointed that this is something that might be good for me, to just walk away from it for a while. I do have this addiction to this team, and addictions are hard to get over, as a lot of people are aware of."
He also said for the first time in a long time, he felt "pretty calm."
"I have a relatively young family, I think you need a father in the house, and that's the most important thing in my life right now," he said.
However, West said he didn't want to leave the door open to a possible return, and said working for another organization would be most difficult.
As far as reports he might someday work for the Clippers, he said, "That would not happen, you can rest assured of that."
Kupchak said he didn't expect West to return.
"He's not indicated that to me," Kupchak said. "It's too far off. I don't think it's something he wants to talk about or think about at this time."
West goes out a winner, thanks to the Lakers' victory over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. West opted not to attend any of the games against the Pacers because, "I couldn't stand to watch them."
Kupchak couldn't come up with an answer when asked why West decided to step down.
"Certainly winning a championship has got to factor in somewhere," Kupchak said, adding he believed it was important for West to win a championship without the nucleus of the 1980s teams that won five titles -- Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
"I think it was important for him for that group to retire and rebuild it, from scratch," Kupchak said. "It's almost like, 'My job is done, time for me to move on, time for someone else to take over.'"
Kupchak said there is a contractual agreement between West and the Lakers, although West won't be involved in the day-to-day decisions.
"I don't think there is an official title, consultant, anything of that nature," Kupchak said.
After retiring as a player, West spent two years away from the game before replacing Bill Sharman as coach of the Lakers before the 1976-77 season.
He spent three years as coach and three more as a special consultant with the team before being promoted to general manager before the 1982-83 season. Since then he has handled day-to-day operations and all player personnel decisions.
In an open letter to fans, West said of the Lakers, "I will remain their biggest fan."
A member of the 1960 gold medal U.S. Olympic team, West helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals nine times. A 14-time All-Star, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. The Lakers retired his No. 44 jersey four years later.
As an executive, West completed many major deals, among them the acquisition of Kobe Bryant in a trade for Vlade Divac shortly after the 1996 NBA draft and the signing of free agent Shaquille O'Neal that same summer.