18 Feb Lakers unveil bronze statue of Jerry West

The Logo is now a statue. Jerry West has been immortalized in a larger-than-life bronze statue outside Staples Center, joining likenesses of fellow Los Angeles Lakers greats Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn in Star Plaza.

West, the hard-nosed Hall of Fame guard whose silhouette adorns the NBA’s logo, formally unveiled the statue Thursday night in a star-studded ceremony kicking off All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. The honor celebrates both West’s 14-year playing career and his remarkable front-office tenure with the Lakers, building two teams that won multiple titles.

With tears welling in his eyes at times, the 72-year-old West thanked the Lakers, Staples Center and dozens of attending friends for the honor, but acknowledged he felt uncomfortable getting so much attention.

“This is awkward for me,” West said before pulling a gold cord to drop a curtain surrounding the statue. “To be honored by the people I admire most is just incredible. … I played for the fans of L.A., and particularly my teammates. Every time I put on a Laker uniform, I was filled with a tremendous sense of pride.”

Ever the unsatisfied perfectionist, West also said he might have chosen to be pictured in the middle of his famously smooth jump shot, instead of the dribbling pose chosen for the statue.

West appeared genuinely touched by the tributes during emotional comments from his friends and colleagues, and Magic Johnson couldn’t have been more thrilled.

“Please enjoy this moment, because you deserve it,” Johnson said, poking fun at his former boss’ famed pessimism. “I know you thought that nobody was going to show up. People do love you. Enjoy this! Everything we did as a team, we did because of you.”

A sizable contingent of Lakers fans gathered on the edge of the ceremony, chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” and straining for photographs of the statue, which is mounted on a large base with carvings listing West’s accomplishments.

After leaving West Virginia as the Lakers’ first draft pick in Los Angeles in 1960, West began his career teaming with Elgin Baylor, who attended the ceremony along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Pat Riley, Shaquille O’Neal and NBA commissioner David Stern.

“I never played with anyone that played as hard, took the game as seriously as Jerry,” said Baylor, who retired early in the 1971-72 season, when West won his only championship as a player. “He was a great person to be around, except when we lost games.”

West was the Lakers’ career scoring leader when he retired, an honor since claimed by Kobe Bryant, who didn’t attend the ceremony but sent a video message. A 14-time All-Star who averaged 29.1 points per game in the postseason, West’s No. 44 jersey already hangs in the Staples Center rafters.

West’s statue is the fifth placed in the plaza since Staples Center opened in 1999. Johnson’s likeness was the first, while Los Angeles Kings great Wayne Gretzky and native boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya also are recognized alongside Hearn, the Lakers’ late broadcaster.

De La Hoya and Gretzky both attended the ceremony along with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison. They were joined by a large contingent of luminaries from the Lakers and the NBA – everyone from Bill Sharman and Bill Walton to James Worthy and Pau Gasol, all praising West’s contributions to their lives.

“I know I wouldn’t be standing here today if he hadn’t convinced Dr. Buss to give me an interim tryout of 14 games,” said Riley, the Heat president who won four titles as the Lakers’ coach.

West coached the Lakers for three seasons before starting his career in the front office. Current Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak singled out West’s risk-taking and gut instincts as his greatest strengths while building two rosters that won multiple championships for the Lakers: The 1980s dynamo that won four titles with Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Riley as coach, and then the Shaq-Kobe combo that won three more championships in the early 2000s.

“We became the most dominant, the most controversial duo that’s ever been know, and it’s all because of Jerry West,” O’Neal said.

The kinder side of West’s personality revealed itself in other ways. Kupchak and Abdul-Jabbar told remarkably similar stories of their first meetings with West, saying they were both high school players in New York City who were flattered to have a brief conversation with West at a Lakers practice.

Buss still has sharp memories of his first look at West as a West Virginia player in a tournament in Los Angeles 50 years ago.

“How many people have a statue made to honor them? One in a billion?” Buss asked. “Well, Jerry is certainly one of those.”

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