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“He came in there like a gangster” — when Jerry West stopped Shaquille O'Neal from destroying the locker room

Everyone else on the Lakers was scared to confront Shaquille O'Neal. Then Jerry West walked in.
Jerry West shakes hands with Los Angeles Lakers former center Shaquille O'Neal

Jerry West and Shaquille O'Neal

Handing out the GM of the Year award is tough. It's challenging to judge a GM on a yearly basis. Their decisions have long-term effects, so a much better way to judge them is through a more extended period. If we were to take it to the extreme and try and determine the Mt. Rushmore of GMs, Jerry West would for sure be up there.

The magic touch

Every team West managed improved significantly. He is credited for the Lakers’ 80s dynasty, the revitalization in the ’90s with Divac, who he then traded for Kobe and brought Shaq. In 1995 he won his first GM of the Year award. Then West decided he needed a new challenge and went to Memphis, where he took a team about to fall apart into a consistent playoff team. 2004 he got his second GM of the Year award. In 2007, at the age of 69, he retired from Memphis.

For most people, that would’ve been enough, but in 2011 West became an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors. Lacob and Guber purchased the team, and they realized to build a strong team, you need a strong leader. To refresh your memory, Steph was in his second year, Klay was just drafted, Monta Ellis was their best player, and Kwame Brown and Nate Duncan were playing significant minutes. In the next few years, West helped the team decide to go with Steph and trade Monta, draft Draymond Green, and when there was a Kevin Love – Klay Thompson trade on the table, he pushed for the Warriors to keep the Splash Brothers together.

After Steve Balmer purchased the Clippers for $2 billion, he realized that if you want to be sure you'll be successful, the move is to hire Jerry West. He came on as an executive board member with the team and led them to one of the smoothest turnarounds from a failing CP3-Blake-DeAndre divorce to being a championship contender led by the two-headed-monster of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

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Authority

So, how does he do it? Being a great GM means being a great leader. One of the keys to leadership is not just understanding what people are like but WHY are they like that. If you decode the underlying code to their behavior, then you can lead them. It seems Jerry West has that particular skill.

Shaq describes himself as a man who respects authority and a pecking order. A dominant player who was challenging to manage, but he points out he never had problems with Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, or Jerry West. When you think about Shaq’s upbringing, an army brat that needed strict discipline to remain focused on fulfilling his potential, that makes sense - that’s Shaq’s “why.” He will challenge you to see if you have what it takes to define the pecking order. Most people didn’t do that. But after the Lakers got swept in the Western Conference finals in’ 97/’98, Jerry West did just that.

“I'm in the bathroom, and I'm tearing the bathroom up. I ripped three urinals out the wall, I ripped two toilets up, I ripped a couple of toilet doors, I messed up a big color TV, and Jerry West comes in "WHAT THE F— ARE YOU DOING!" So he grabs me up here (the neck) and pins me up: "You dummy, I went to the Finals seven times before I won, your time is gonna come." So I was like, the great Jerry West lost seven times before he won one, I don't feel so bad, I got a couple more times to lose before they really talk about me. He relaxed me a little bit.”

Shaquille O'Neal, In Depth with Graham Bensinger

Keep in mind; you need to have credit in Shaq’s eyes to do that. Imagine someone else saying the same thing. While the point would be the same, it wouldn’t be the logo saying it. When a mountain of a man is ripping urinals out of the wall, you need to be able to walk in there and yell at him without being feared for your safety. Most people had that moment in their life when someone isn’t physically stronger but has the experience and reputation that demand respect.

“Nobody in the locker room said anything. I guess he came in to address the team, but he herd me in there, and he just came in there; he came in there like a gangster. "What are you doing?" he just pinned me up. Have you ever heard the term "old man strength."? He had that old men strength, I don't know where he had it, but he kinda like brought me on my tippy toes a little bit.”

Shaquille O'Neal, In Depth with Graham Bensinger

Jerry West, the ultimate gangster. 6'2'', at the time 60-year-old man who got through to Shaq, not only with his "old man strength," but with the power of his presence. The only thing Shaq ever truly respected.

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