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Jerry West and James Worthy chime in on which Lakers great should get a statue next

December 5, 2010 |  8:00 am

There Jerry West stood at Star Plaza outside Staples Center, feeling nearly embarrassed that a statue would be unveiled in his honor during the NBA's All-Star weekend.

He lamented that his 14-year career with the Lakers, from 1960 to 1974, featured more frustrating moments (losing to Boston six times in the NBA Finals) than triumphs (the 1972 NBA title, the 1969 Finals MVP). He found it puzzling that he has earned a statue outside Staples Center considering that he never played in the arena. And he hoped that he, Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn will not be the only Lakers honored for their contributions with statues.

"I don't really embrace stuff like that, to be honest with you," West said recently outside Staples Center. "I would love to have a bunch of the players I played with up there with me if that's going to be honored. That doesn't define who I am. Whoever decided to do this, I'm extremely grateful and I don't want to feel like I don't care. But it's a lot more about teams than individuals."

Plenty of people within the Lakers organization disagree with West's opinion. Guard Kobe Bryant, whose draft rights West acquired in 1996 by trading Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets, said "it's about time" West earned a statue. Former Lakers forward James Worthy added, "With Jerry, they're already a little late with his." And Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss said, "Can you think of anybody that deserves a statue more than him?"

West earned the name "Mr. Clutch" during his playing career, led the Lakers to the NBA championship in 1972, was a 14-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection, won the 1969 Finals MVP award and retired as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer with 25,192 points. Bryant eclipsed that mark last season.

Even if West didn't feel comfortable talking about his statue, he joined the discussion about which Lakers great should get the next statue. Below are West's candidates.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: He seems to be the overriding favorite for the next one to get a statue. Buss shared in her book, "Laker Girl," that she felt conflicted about whether the statue unveiled during the 2011 NBA All-Star game at Staples Center should feature West or Abdul-Jabbar, who won five of his NBA championships with the Lakers and remains the NBA's all-time leading scorer (38,387). After writing in her book that "it's a touch choice," Buss said later in an interview that Abdul-Jabbar "would be the natural fit." The Times' Bill Plaschke wrote last month 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 will be the next players to have statues outside Staples Center. And should this come to fruition, Worthy already has envisioned what the statue will look like: "A sky hook is intriguing enough."

Elgin Baylor: West argued that Baylor is "one of the great players who never gets enough credit." It is surprising considering Baylor ranks among the all-time franchise leaders in numerous categories, including rebounds (first, 11,463), points (third, 23,149) and assists (seventh, 3,650). He averaged over 30 points and 14 rebounds in three seasons during his career and he led the Lakers in rebounding for a team-record seven consecutive seasons (1958-65). But things have remained thorny between him and the NBA after he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in February 2009 against the Clippers, team owner Donald Sterling and the league alleging that he was underpaid during his tenure with the team and then fired because of his age and race. As far as his tenure with the Lakers, the resume as an 11-time NBA All-Star and 10-time member of the All-NBA first team is impressive even if he never won a championship. Summed up Roland Lazenby, who recently penned a biography of West: "[Baylor] taught Jerry so much just in the way he approached the game."

Shaquille O'Neal: If the Lakers were to seriously consider this, it would certainly be met with controversy. No one can discount how instrumental he proved in the Lakers' three-peat from 1999 to 2001, and the on-court duo of Shaq and Bryant appeared nearly unstoppable. But O'Neal's legacy with the Lakers seems to focus on the aftermath of his trade to the Miami Heat, including rubbing it in after winning a title with Miami in 2006; releasing a distasteful rap song (if you can call it that) targeting Bryant after the Lakers lost the 2008 Finals; and suggesting at one point that Coach Phil Jackson intentionally tried to get Shaq and Kobe to butt heads. Shaq and Kobe have been cordial for years now, but that doesn't mean Lakers fans are as forgiving.

Surely, Bryant will have a statue at some point, an issue Johnson raised after the Lakers won the 2010 NBA Finals, but his contract lasts until the 2013-2014 season. Given how much of gap there has been between the unveiling of Johnson's statue (2004) and West's (2011), the Lakers would go through plenty of other candidates, including Abdul-Jabbar and Bryant, before having to even consider Shaq.

-- Mark Medina

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