..The Logo, The Kingmaker just couldn’t stand the VC owner anymore. Why his “my work is done here” explanation for leaving is only half the story.
There was a cutaway just moments after the Warriors, courtesy Kevin Durant, netted their second N.B.A championship in three years. In the hallway of Oracle Arena among the throng of lanyard-clad sponsors, players’ crews, family and front office people was a glowing elder gent in a Judge Smails blazer. He shook the hand of Steph Curry, patted Klay Thompson’s behind and grabbed Durant by his scarecrow arm and pulled him down to whisper in his ear.
Head down, it was tough to gauge KD’s expression, but his wiry goatee nodded as if he understood. He smiled, gave the stately man a hug and moved on to the celebration.
That was Jerry West and I can only imagine he said, “My work is done here.”
West joined the Warriors as advisor emeritus in 2011. The team was just coming off a 36-46 season to finish 12th in the Western Conference. Troubled scooter crasher Monta Ellis was the team’s marquee player and though the Warriors had drafted sharp-shooting guard Stephen Curry two years prior, the flashy son of the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leading scorer, Dell, was injury prone and anemic on defense.
The season prior, the New York Knicks surrendered All-Star forward David Lee and Jeremy Lin had yet to make his quick splash, but beyond that, the Warriors were a cast of no-names, misfits and one- or two-and-done D-leaguers destined to finish careers in Europe (Jeff Adrien, Charlie Bell, Andris Biedrins, Dan Gadzuric, Ekpe Udoh and Vladimir Radmanović) smarting, or perhaps simply numb from their 18th losing season of the last 20.
Enter West as special consultant.
West, the silhouette on the N.B.A. logo and core Los Angeles Laker player then coach then GM, won six championships with the Showtime and Kobe-Shaq-era Lakers. In 2002, he became general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies and helped that franchise win their first-ever playoff berths. When he came to Golden State, the team wasn’t so much the league’s perennial doormat as the bleached outline of the missing key beneath it.
As it turns out, West would be the one to unlock the N.B.A.’s secrets to the West Coast’s forgotten franchise.
In the six years to follow, the Warriors would draft All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, bring Shaun Livingston from the Nets, acquire Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets, pick up promising rookie Patrick McCaw and resurrect the careers of Andrew Bogut and JaVale McGee.
And, of course, Old Man West would land the biggest Marlin of them all in the 2016 offseason in Durant.
He is the Chip and Jo Gaines of the N.B.A.
It’s easy to create a narrative around West’s exit. The Warriors, should they sign Livingston, Iguodala, Durant and Curry this offseason, seem to have a team in place that can contend if not come out as the pre-season favorite to continue to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the next half-decade.
The Warriors are so good, this past N.B.A. finals had some fans and pundits crying foul—that the Warriors had built some kind of “super-team” as if overnight. Yes, The Warriors were now not playing on a fair plane. It’s like saying your Drivers’ Ed teacher has an unfair advantage pulling chicks because he’s got an extra brake in his car or postal and DMV workers get too much respect.
West and co. know better. Through smart use of draft picks, bold coaching moves—the Warriors fired head coach Mark Jackson after Jackson led the team to the playoffs twice in a row in his second and third seasons after two-plus decades of futility which is more or less the equivalent of when Ronald Miller dumps Cindy in Can’t Buy Me Love…
…And a little bit of luck (who knew David West had it in him?) they not so much created a blueprint as they borrowed a pinch and a dash from every winning basketball era. Golden State is the natural progression of the team play of the Bill Russell-era, the fast break Showtime Lakers, the staggering star power and stifling defense of the Jordan-Bulls era and occasionally a sprinkle of cringe-worthy iso throwback to the Kobe/AI early ‘00s.
All the moves, like the very trophies hoisted, had West’s fingerprints all over them.
So, what could possibly inspire a 79-year-old man to embark on a fifth (sixth? ninth?) act as special envoy to the constantly embattled Los Angeles Clippers, the place West heads next?
Two words: Joe (Fucking) Lacob.
It’s no secret that the Warriors VC-OG owner Lacob is equal parts full of himself and full of shit. Fans and players bristled then held their collective breath for an entire season after Lacob told a New York Times Magazine writer that the Warriors’ methods were “light years ahead” of other teams—only to watch his team lose in seven games, at home, in the finals two months after publication to the Cavs.
Lacob was equally embarrassing center stage at the trophy ceremony in Oracle Monday, when he pointed the hardware toward Kevin Durant and said, smarm and smug seeping out of every pore, “And Kevin …thanks for coming.”
It was a man taking credit for everything he had nothing to do with. Durant, dutifully, turned his eyes toward the floor and mouthed “yes-sir.” It was one of those party-killing moments when the dickhead nobody wanted to come rushes in, knocks over a bunch of shit, changes the music, butts in on your conversation demanding to know “what’re you talking about” then pukes not in but around the toilet before passing out on the couch in the middle of everyone.
It’s not that West didn’t know what he was getting in Lacob and co-owner/Hollywood exec Peter Guber who bought the Warriors off Chris Cohen in 2010. And he’s dealt—mightily—with big West Coast egos his entire career and knows exactly how to drive the lane between hedge fund guys and movie moguls. But there was something about the Lacob ownership we aren’t exposed to in the light of day that sent even a been-there/done-that GOAT like West into the shadows of the organization more and more each passing season. Though he still maintained a close relationship with GM Bob Myers, head coach Steve Kerr and especially the players, it was the guy whose signature is at the bottom of the check who solidified the exit.
Don’t feel too bad for Jerry West. He is the most employable octogenarian you know. He gets to go back to his home base, Los Angeles and he is chummy with the Clippers, particularly owner Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft head. For his part, West described the decision to leave Golden State as “one of the saddest days of [his] life” but also noted in practically the next breath, “For me, life is about passion. Life is about being around people you want to be around. In my meeting with Steve and [other Clippers owner] Dennis Wong, they were great.”
Hear that Lacob?
The Clippers, who have never been to a N.B.A. Finals, have some challenges ahead that only the likes of West can solve. Though they’ve been to the playoffs each of the last six seasons, they’ve never advanced past the second round. Now the franchise is readying for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to opt out of their contracts and become unrestricted free agents. J.J. Redick, already an unrestricted free agent, may be too expensive to keep.
On top of that, the Clippers don’t have any draft picks this year—the forum where West shines best is currently unavailable to him.
But there are also (very Los Angeles-centric) rumors that LeBron James, who can opt out of his contract in Cleveland and already owns a home and has his children enrolled in private school in LA, could be a longshot to land in Clips Red at Staples come October. More realistically, N.B.A. hot stove rumors have West bringing back at least one of the Clips’ current stars and buffeting the backcourt with either Russell Westbrook or Paul George …or both.
“It’s about me wanting to try to see if I can help make a difference with the people the Clippers have in place. I’m not going to be the out-front person,” West said.
During an interview after the Warriors’ victory parade, West recalled how he stood in the hallway at Oracle Arena in Oakland late Monday night after the Warriors defeated Cleveland to win the N.B.A. championship, knowing that was it. “I will really miss that Warriors organization. I really will,” he said. “But honestly, there was nothing left for me to do.”
…And as easy as it may be to see why West feels that way, the sentiment only tells half the story.