SI Vault
William Leggett
October 29, 1962
FORECAST FOR A NEW PRO SEASONA thorough look at the National Basketball Association, with some predictions on who will finish where and an examination of the strong, young team that may start the sport's next dynasty.
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October 29, 1962

Growing To Greatness

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West had no rug and not many cheers as he, Schaus and the Lakers opened that 1960 season at LA. "In his first year in the league," says Bob Cousy of the Celtics, "West allowed players who weren't half as good to push him around. He wouldn't force a scoring opportunity even if he thought he could get away with it. He'd pass off. Now his confidence is up 100%. West has size, speed, stamina, reach, hands, a shooter's eye and great defensive ability. There isn't much more anyone can have."

"When Jerry first came," says Schaus, "he had some trouble making the transition from college ball to the pros. By the end of the season he had learned and learned and learned. Let me tell you what kind of desire he has. In December of 1959 we were playing in the Kentucky Invitational tournament. Near the end of the first half Jerry went up for a rebound and an elbow caught him in the nose. You could tell right away that it was broken. There was blood all over the place. West had his nose bandaged and insisted on playing the second half. He scored 19 more points and we won."

Last winter, when Baylor was called into the Army, the Lakers were in trouble. No club can truly lose a Baylor, but West stepped forward and played surprising basketball as the Lakers fought to retain their Western Division's lead. West had previously appeared afraid to cut to his left, and the pro defenders had taken advantage of this. Now, possibly because he knew he had to lead the team in Baylor's absence, West began making all the moves he had in college—and more. In the first eight games that Baylor was away West lifted his scoring average from 28.3 to 38 points per game. "I knew that the guys would be expecting me to get the key buckets," says West. "I found myself bearing down a little more, and driving more."

"When we lost Baylor," says Schaus, "we had to rebuild our offense around our guards, West and Frank Selvy, and they both came through. In fact the whole rest of the ball club put out 18 to 20% more. I felt that Jerry was ready for that. In his rookie year I only played him about 30 of the 48 minutes early in the season. I wanted to bring him along slowly, because these pros can discourage a young fellow pretty quickly." Schaus's plan worked, and the Lakers now have one of the most formidable one-two punches in NBA memory.

This year Fred Schaus is working hard on two more rookies, and they will not be discouraged either. One is LeRoy Ellis of St. John's, the other is Gene Wiley of Wichita. They will be used as centers and both can jump exceptionally well. The Lakers acquired both in last spring's player draft and, unlike many other teams, the Lakers began to coach their newcomers immediately.

In June, Wiley and Ellis went to the Lakers' rookie camp along with 12 others trying to make the club. "We would work them in the afternoon," says Schaus, "and see how they did against one another. Then in the evening we'd play them against our regulars.

"We could do this because most of the team lives out in Los Angeles now. The players came to me early this summer and said, 'We'd like to work out together at least one night a week just so we don't get stale.' That is a type of spirit that normally doesn't exist in pro basketball, but we have it. The team knows that they have a long-term thing out here. They realize that it is a profession. That's the way it has to be. Last year we lost the championship to the Boston Celtics in the last 15 seconds. This year they just want Boston bad."

This camaraderie of the Los Angeles Lakers is omnipresent. It can be seen, for example, when West, Baylor, Hundley and Center Jim Krebs sit down to their constant bridge game. Baylor has a well-known nervous twitch in his neck, and Hundley irreverently accuses him of using the twitch as a way of looking at Hundley's hand. Krebs and West think this is a very funny running gag—but the point is that Baylor does, too.

Perhaps the spirit of the Lakers was best exemplified recently on a night the club had an exhibition game against the San Francisco Warriors. The team was in San Luis Obispo, Calif. and Mohs took a bus from Los Angeles to get the players and return them to the city for a day off. Mohs invited the wives of the players to go along. (Naturally, Mrs. West, Mrs. Baylor, Mrs. Hundley and Mrs. Krebs jumped aboard and began playing bridge.) The Lakers beat the Warriors, but did not look up to their normal excellence in doing so.

The bus ride back was a 4½-hour thing through fog and rain. Schaus knew that the club didn't feel proud of itself. He fed them at the best restaurant he could find, but it didn't help much. About an hour outside of Los Angeles a rest stop was asked for. It was 4 a.m. and drizzling. Players and wives got out of the bus and gathered around a soda-dispensing machine. They looked tired and their long legs were stiff. Their clothes were a mess of wrinkles. "Men," said Hot Rod Hundley, "even when we look as bad as we do right in this here night we still got the look of champions."

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