The Lakers have always been an organization that treats its legends well. But according to Jerry West, his relationship with the franchise, with which he starred as both a player and executive, "is horrible," way past the point of possible reconciliation.
Rescinded season ticket
West, now serving as a Clippers consultant, spent his entire career with the Purple and Gold, racking up an all-time great NBA resume. And while his impact on the organization during his playing days was unmatched, West has done even more being a front office guy.
As a player, he led the Lakers to one NBA title. But as an executive, he was there for the organization's six title runs, serving as a GM during the Showtime Lakers of the 80s, and executive vice president of basketball operations during the fraction of the Shaq-Kobe era -- he was the one who orchestrated a trade for Bryant and brought O'Neal to the team.
You can't tell the Lakers' story without mentioning Jerry West. But it seems the organization aims to do just that, based on his interview with The Athletic's Sam Amick. In what is referred to as "the last straw," the Lakers took away West's season tickets, which were promised to him by the late great Dr. Jerry Buss. How they did it is even more telling of their relationship with the franchise legend.
“It was a cold phone text to my wife,” West said in his interview with Sam Amick. “No one had the nerve to call me, but that’s how petty they are, OK? And I love the Lakers, OK? I love to see them do well. It’s great for basketball. I’m proud of everything that happened when I was there. I’m proud of everything that happened when I wasn’t there — the positives”.
“But sometimes you feel like you’re discarded, like a piece of trash," he continued. "And there’s a couple of people over there — not Jeanie — but there’s a couple of people over there that, uh … I don’t get it. I don’t. … I always had a great relationship with Jeanie — at least I thought I did. I don’t know where it is now."
"Maybe I should have played somewhere else"
When Jeanie Buss left West off her list of five most important Lakers ever -- she picked Kobe, LeBron, Kareem, Magic, and Phil Jackson -- The Logo felt betrayed. "It's one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. “I was there a lot of times, had a lot of success. Be curious to know if they would have had that success if I hadn’t been there.”
The snub itself wasn't neceserally an indication of their relationship going south, especially since there are other great names Jeanie left off her list. But it was yet another shot in a series of disrespectful doings towards one of the team's most important individuals ever, creating a cumulative effect that made their relationship what it is today.
West wanted to return to the organization in 2017 as a consultant, but their front office said "they don't need him." In 2018, he described the organization as a "sh-t hole" while recruiting Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers. A year later, the Lakers parted ways with Jerry's son, Ryan West, who had been working for the organization for a decade.
All of this had something to do with the relationship between West and the Lakers going down the drain. But none of us thought it would reach a point of Jerry saying he regrets ever being a part of the organization.
"One disappointing thing about my career is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible. I still don't know why. And at the end of the day, when I look back, I say, 'Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared.'"
Jerry West, The Athletic
Magic Johnson, who served as a president of basketball operations, received a similar treatment. He resigned in 2019, two years into his tenure, saying he was "tired of backstabbing" and “whispering” going on within the organization, mostly from Rob Pelinka.
The two apparently reconciled right after the Lakers won their 17th championship in the bubble. Jerry West, however, doesn't seem as interested in patching things up. "No, it’s too late; it’s too late,” he said. “I don’t need to do that, OK? I really don’t need it. It’s just [bothersome] how people change so much. And I don’t understand it, but it’s fine. It’s fine.”
Right after Magic's public resignation, Jeannie Buss tweeted her love for the legend. But whatever is going on between the organization and West, it's hard to expect it'll be addressed by anyone else apart from The Logo anytime soon. It'll be interesting to find out who is behind all of this drama. But as of today, we know the common denominator to both Magic's and West's beef with the organization.
The presumption of innocence still stands, but sooner or later, the truth will out.