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Snapshots from Jerry West's statue unveiling

February 17, 2011 |  5:02 pm


5:02 p.m. We're here at the Star Plaza outside Staples Center where at 5 p.m. the  tribute to Lakers Hall of FamerJerry West will begin. It's expected to last an hour and will culminate with the unveiling of a 14-foot, nearly 1,500-pound bronze bust of the man known as "The Logo" and "Mr. Clutch."

The event is free to the public and a pretty sizeable crowd has started to gather outside the metal fences. Inside those fences, five rows of seating has been set up for officials, colleagues, family and friends of West, who is scheduled to speak along with several others, probably along with team owner,Dr. Jerry Buss.

West's career with the Lakers has spanned more than 40 years, as player, coach and general manager. He led the 1972 team to a NBA championship and he helped build seven championship teams as a general manager. In 1995, he earned NBA executive-of-the-year honors.

When West retired as a player in 1974, he did so as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, a mark Kobe Bryant broke last season.

The statue of West, which is currently behind a black curtain, was commissioned by the Lakers, Staples Center and AEG. It was created by sculptors/artists Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amranyand will have a granite pedestal.

5:21 p.m. It's a who's who on stage here at the Star Plaza outside Staples Center where they're dedicating a statue to Lakers great Jerry West.

It includes NBA Commissioner David Stern, former Lakers coach Pat Riley of the "Showtime" era, Lakers Hall of FamerElgin Baylor, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russelland Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

"I don't know anybody who has demonstrated more caring about this game, more dedication to this game," Stern said. This will be the second statue of West, as another stands on the campus of the University of West Virginia, West's alma mater.

5:42 p.m. Seated next to Lakers great Elgin BaylorJerry West and others on stage watched a video commemorating his rise from a star at West Virginia to the Lakers, which includes several interviews with West about his playing days.

After that, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak spoke, and joked that he needed some advice after the Lakers' embarrassing loss Wednesday night to Cleveland.

Then Lakers owner Jerry Buss spoke at length about West.

"How many people have a statue?" Buss asked. "One in a million? Well, Jerry is certainly one of those. Thank you, Jerry."

 5:49 p.m.  Celtics great Bill Russell just spoke and said of Jerry West, "To us (players), Jerry was not a silhouette. To us, he was a man with a soul."

Then Russell, after heavily praising West, said how he always admired Lakers center George Mikan, who once told him that when he got out of high school he should play for the Lakers.

"That's one ambition I never got to fulfill," Russell said.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss then said something along the lines of "darn it," seeming to wish somehow Russell had been in Lakers' purple and gold rather that the Celtics' green and white.

Also, Lakers center Pau Gasol is here, along with Shaquille O'Neal, who West brought to L.A. Bill Walton is also present, as is James Worthy.

6:01 pm. Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant wasn't able to make it to the ceremony tonight, but he recorded video comments thanking Jerry West, who brought Bryant to the Lakers.

"Obviously it's a great honor," Bryant said in the video. "Nobody deserves it more than you, Mr. Clutch. I love you and thank you for everything you've done for me in my career."

Also present are Oscar De La HoyaWayne Gretzky and Mike Dunleavy.

6:45 p.m. Jerry West and his family just gathered on stage as he pulled the gold rope that unveiled the statue of him here at Star Plaza at Staples Center, as purple and gold streamers exploded from a nearby cannon.

The statue depicts him mid-stride, dribbling down the court, ball in his left hand, wearing his No. 44 gold Lakers jersey with those short shorts, raggy white socks, low-top sneakers and his face in a kind of half-grin, as if he sees an open path to the basket.

"To think of a little boy who had an opportunity to live his dream, and maybe to exceed it, that is very special," West said, holding back tears.

--Baxter Holmes

6:45 p.m. West never really looked forward to this moment, arguing that he never played basketball for recognition and that Elgin Baylor should've had a statue alongside him. But when West approached the lectern, he couldn't help but acknowledge why this ceremony meant a lot to him. But it had little to do with the statue.

"When I look around this room, some of the people that I've been around as athletes and some of the ones I competed against, I really want to thank you for coming tonight," said West, who added he's writing an autobiography that will be highly critical of himself. "Frankly it's more meaningful than the statue."


Jerry West reflects on his career

7:30 p.m As Kupchak spent his afternoon driving memories kept passing by when he drove past the Fabulous Forum on the west end and then eventually into Staples Center. Each time he drove past each arena, he kept wondering if either venue would exist if not for West's presence as a player and general manager.

 But it isn't just the foundation West helped build for the organization that left Kupchak nostalgic. He vividly recalled meeting him for the first time in the 1972 NBA Finals where as a high school student from Brentwood High in Long Island, he was invited into the locker room to meet West.

"I met Jerry West for 15 seconds and 12 years later I got on bus in Los Angeles and made small talk with Jerry. I said, 'I met you 10 or 15 years ago.' He stopped, turned around and looked at me and said 'I remember.'"

It wasn't just West's personal connection that made Kupchak value his friendship with him when he played for the Lakers from 1981-86 and then followed as the team's assistant general manager. It was West's encouragement for Kupchak to think outside his comfort zone and understand the value of taking risks.

"You can make a lot of safe decisions. But the more safe decisions you make, the more prone you are to being in the middle of the pack at the end of the year. We're fortunate to have an owner and were fortunate to have a general manager who were not afraid and were risk takers."

"Being around them you realize what the upside is and being able to put an organization in a position by taking a chance," he continued. "Working with Jerry and the other Jerry for 14 years, there was always encouragement in particular by Dr. Buss to take a chance and roll the dice. That hasn't changed."

7:45 pm. - Two consecutive losses to the Utah Jazz in the 1996 and 1997 NBA playoffs prompted Shaq to vent his frustrations in a bathroom at the Fabulous Forum. Hearing the commotion, West entered, and as Shaq recalled, physically confronted him.

"He came out and grabbed me by the neck and said, 'I went to the Finals nine times before we won," Shaw recalled West telling him. "He said, 'Take your time. You and Kobe take your time and keep playing and it will happen."

West's prediction rang true with the Lakers three-peating from 1999-2002. But that's not the reason why Shaq was willing to view West's ceremony, despite being a Boston Celtic, something Bryant didn't do for unspecified reasons. It's because Shaq most valued West's honesty, his episode in the bathroom just being one example. In turn, West addressed Shaq during the ceremony and revealed how much he appreciated his presence and sense of humor.

"I owe everything to Mr. Jerry West," Shaq said. "I owe him everything. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten the ability and the chance to know what it feels like to be a champion. I owe that man to everything. He asked me to come. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

--Mark Medina

Photo: Jerry West, left, speaks with Magic Johnson at the Farmers Field announcement in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 2010. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press