Jeanie Buss: Jerry West statue will feature him as a player
On hearing the news that the Lakers would unveil a statue of former star Jerry West outside Staples Center during NBA All-Star weekend, a conundrum popped into Kobe Bryant's mind.
"You have to try to decide on what statue to put up there, him as a player or him as an exec; that goes to show what he's done for this organization," Bryant said.
In a wide-ranging interview to promote her book, "Laker Girl," Jeanie Buss,the team's executive vice president, told The Times that the statue will feature West as a player.
"Can you think of anybody that deserves a statue more than him?" Buss said of West, who earned the name "Mr. Clutch" during his playing career with the Lakers from 1960 to 1974, led the team to an NBA championship in 1972, became a 14-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA team member and won the 1969 Finals MVP, though the Lakers lost that series to the Celtics. He also retired as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, with 25,192 points, before Bryant eclipsed that mark last season.
Bryant's statement, however, points out how West's standing with the Lakers goes beyond his accomplishments as a player. He worked in the front office, including head coaching and scouting positions, before becoming the team's general manager in the 1982-1983 season. That led to seven championships, an NBA executive of the year honor in 1995 and the effort to bring in Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, two integral pieces that ultimately resulted in a Lakers three-peat from 1999 to 2002.
The West monument will be the Lakers statue outside Staples Center, after those honoring Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn. Staples Center also features statues depicting hockey player Wayne Gretzky and boxer Oscar De La Hoya. Johnson's statue was dedicated during the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles in 2004, while Hearn's statue was unveiled last season.
"We thought maybe it was time to unveil another All-Star," Buss said. "Jerry West was perfect. It's going to be great. I'm going to look forward to that day."
In Buss' book, she mentioned that it was her "dream" to commission another statue for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game, but that she was conflicted over whether it should depict West or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won five of his NBA championships with the Lakers and remains the NBA's all-time leading scorer (38,387) "It's a tough choice," she wrote.
The Times' Bill Plaschke also reported Friday that, based on conversations with members of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center and L.A. Live, "it seems apparent" that Abdul-Jabbar and Kings player Luc Robitaille would be the next players to have statues outside Staples Center. Although Buss said there aren't any definitive plans for a statue unveiling featuring Abdul-Jabbar, she expressed confidence that would eventually happen.
"I would have to think so," Buss said. "I would have to think he'd be the natural fit. But there's so many great Lakers. But certainly Kareem stands among some of the greatest of all time."
Buss also remained open to the idea, expressed by some in this forum, that the Lakers should eventually construct a Lakers Hall of Fame building.
"Those are some great ideas, and we've talked internally about having a place," Buss said. "Although I love having the trophies here, it would be great [that] the fans could go visit them in person. We talk a lot about stuff like that, but no definite plans. Maybe someday we'll have a Lakerland."
But for now, the Lakers' sole focus on a statue unveiling involves West's.
"I want people to also remember how instrumental Jerry was in the building of Staples Center," Buss said. "He was part of that process, and he had a lot of input into that building. It really is the perfect place for a statue of him."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Jerry West Credit: NBA