L.A.'s Hall of Fame guard and former general manager delivered his considered opinion on Kobe Bryant's place in the Lakers' pantheon
When you called Kobe the greatest Laker of all time earlier this month, were you surprised at the reaction?
Jerry West: Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker to ever play. Period. I love Magic Johnson and his contribution, but Magic Johnson had a lot more help, to be honest with you. He played, sometimes, with five All-Stars. Kobe Bryant is just a different talent. He will go down as one of the two or three greatest players of all time, I think. His ability to do things that other people can't do, his ability to win games late, his defensive ability. He has an all-around game. When you look at him, you don't see what's inside. And I think that's what really sets the great ones apart.
Why does Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] get shortchanged in that argument?
JW: Well, when you look at it, Kareem was traded here. He didn't start his career here. But to me, Kareem and Elgin Baylor are two of the most overlooked Lakers of all time, I think. ... Magic Johnson never won an NBA championship without Abdul-Jabbar. That's pretty well documented, but no one ever talks about it. I think Jerry Buss had such a special relationship with Magic. I think you heard [after Game 7] that Magic called him the greatest owner in all of professional sports. But I just think that the personality of Kareem is quiet. In many ways he was a player who never called attention to himself. With Magic Johnson, he has a personality bigger than life. And Elgin Baylor didn't ever do anything to call attention to himself either. His play spoke for itself. I think the Lakers have had the greatest group of players who have been at the top of the game. When you go measure the 10 greatest players, the Lakers might have three or four of them on that list, which is remarkable.
I know, even as humble as you are, you're in the conversation.
JW: Well, Dan, that was years ago. Long ago and far away. I really try not to live in the past.