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Jerry West didn't want the Lakers to draft Magic Johnson

Jerry West drafting Magic Johnson

Jerry West drafting Magic Johnson

For all of his historical moves as a Lakers executive -- trading for Kobe Bryant on the 1996 Draft night, acquiring Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent the same year -- Jerry West almost cost the organization one of its best players ever. Thankfully, he wasn't authorized to make a move, but if it were entirely up to him, Magic Johnson would've never been a Laker.

The Logo wanted Sydney Moncrief instead

The first two years after he retired, West stayed away from the game. He then returned to the Lakers as a head coach (1976-1979), leading them to three straight playoff appearances -- they made the Western Conference Finals in his first season.

After his three-year coaching run, West decided to stay with the organization, this time as a player scout. And right away, he was faced with a baptism of fire; deciding on who to take with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, which the Lakers got after winning a coin flip against the Chicago Bulls.

“I was playing basketball at Venice Beach,” said Pat O’Brien, a reporter for KNXT-TV at the time. “The news came over a transistor radio, and people started screaming. ‘Yes! Yes! We’re getting Magic! We’re getting Magic!’”

Magic was equally excited. Under no circumstances was he going to join the Bulls -- he even said he would return to Michigan State for his junior season in case Chicago got the No.1 pick. But now, he was a lock to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Purple and Gold. And everyone, including the team owner Jack Kent Cooke, taught picking him first was a no-brainer. Everyone, but Jerry West.

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“West wanted Moncrief, and he made it very clear to Jack Kent Cooke,”said Rich Levin, who covered the team for the Los Angeles Herald- Examiner. “There was a strong belief, for a brief time at least, that Moncrief, not Magic, would wind up a Laker.”

West's doubts turned out to be Magic's forte

At 6-9, 215 pounds, Magic was nothing like your average NBA point guard at the time. The forerunner of today's point forwards, with his size and unmatched playmaking ability, Johnson was set to revolutionize the game of basketball. But it wasn't his skill set that floored the entire NBA community; it was his charisma.

“He was just a magnet,” said Claire Rothman, general manager and vice president of the Forum. “You wanted to be around him. You wanted to see him smile. You wanted to have lunch with him. Earvin Johnson was perfectly nicknamed. He had . . . it.”

West also wasn't immune to Magic's contagious personality. He did have, however, have doubts about what other people thought was Johnson's biggest strength; his frame as a playmaker. For that reason alone, Jerry wanted to play it safe and pick the 6-4 high-scoring guard from the University of Arkansas.

"Cooke told those within his small circle of confidants that the team could have gone with Sidney Moncrief. That was the advice presented to him by Jerry West, who wasn’t fully convinced a 6-foot-9 point guard would function in the fast-paced NBA."

Jeff Pearlman, Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty of the 1980s

West was the one Cooke trusted the most. But thankfully, the team owner also believed in star power. So despite Jerry's scouting report, the Lakers decided to go with the point guard from Michigan State. After days-long negotiations, two sides reached a deal, making Johnson the highest-paid rookie in league history at the time with a $500,000 annual salary.

Three years later, when West was named the Lakers GM, the team was coming off their second NBA title, with Magic Johnson winning Finals MVPs both times. Thus one of the greatest dynasties was born, and The Logo played a big part in it, keeping the championship core intact for years to come. But he almost cost them that opportunity in the first place.


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