L O S A N G E L E S, Aug. 7, 2000 -- Jerry West retired today, ending a 40-yearcareer with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he was one of the NBA’s greatest players and one of its most successful executives.
He said he is now “unburdened of the pressures” of pro sportsand looks forward to becoming the team’s biggest fan.
West will be succeeded as executive vice president of basketballoperations by general manager Mitch Kupchak, who has worked withWest in the front office the past 14 years. Kurt Rambis waspromoted to assistant general manager.
Difficult and Happy Time
West wrote a letter to Lakers fans that was attached to the newsrelease issued by the Lakers.
“This is a difficult yet happy time for me personally as Iretire my position with the Los Angeles Lakers and enter anotherperiod of my life, one that will allow me more freedom to enjoy myfriends and particularly my family, unburdened with the pressuresof the professional athletic business,” he wrote.
“Obviously, Jerry West is irreplaceable. What he’s meant to theLakers’ franchise over the past 40 years is immeasurable,” Lakersowner Jerry Buss said. “However, we don’t want to mourn hisleaving. Rather, we want to embrace his contributions to ourhistory and recognize that is it part of what makes our franchisespecial.”
Buss said he has the “utmost respect” for Kupchak.
“He is Jerry West’s handpicked successor and was trained bythe best,” the owner said. “Mitch has become and will continue tobe, one of the best front office executives in the NBA in his ownright.”
Coach Phil Jackson reportedly will have a stronger say in rosterdecisions when Kupchak takes over.
The 62-year-old West first spoke publicly about stress during anews conference late in the 1998 season. But then he signed afour-year contract extension worth a reported $3.5 million a yearthrough the 2002-2003 campaign.
After the Lakers won their first NBA championship in 12 yearsearlier this summer, there were another round of reports that hewould leave.
The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported he suffered from anirregular heartbeat caused by nervous tension, and because of thecondition he did not attend any of the Lakers’ playoff gamesagainst Portland or Indiana — the final two rounds culminating inthe Lakers’ first championship in 12 years.
West learned the outcome of the sixth and final game againstIndiana while driving in his car and getting a call from a friend.
West, known as “Mr. Clutch,” played for the Lakers for 14seasons before retiring in 1974. He won one championship ring as aplayer and six more as an executive. After two years away from thegame, he replaced Bill Sharman as coach of the Lakers before the1976-77 season.
He spent three years as coach and three more as a specialconsultant with the team before being promoted to general managerbefore the 1982-83 season. Since then he has handled day-to-dayoperations and all player personnel decisions.
His title changed in 1995 from general manager to executive vicepresident for basketball operations.
“I have been blessed with the privilege to play for and workfor the best athletic franchise in all of sports and I will alwaystreasure the experience,” West said. “As I watch their progresswith great interest and pride, I will remain their biggest fan.”