How Jerry West built the Showtime Lakers

Jerry West, a Lakers legend on the court and a mastermind off it, etched his name into NBA history with his contributions both as a player and an executive. During his 14-year playing career, West led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals, culminating in a championship win in 1972. However, his influence on the team’s success reached new heights when he transitioned into an executive role, playing a pivotal part in raising 17 banners for the Lakers.

The 1980s were defined by the Showtime Lakers, a team that embodied the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles with their high-octane, fast-paced style of play. Under the leadership of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the strategic brilliance of coach Pat Riley, the Lakers appeared in nine NBA Finals and clinched five championships during the decade. While Magic, Kareem, and Riley are often celebrated as the faces of this golden era, it was Jerry West who was the architect behind the scenes, meticulously constructing the roster that would dominate the NBA.

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West’s journey from the court to the front office began in 1982 when he was appointed General Manager of the Lakers, following a three-year stint as a scout. His keen eye for talent and deep understanding of the game were instrumental in building a dynasty. Here’s how West engineered one of the greatest dynasties in league history:

 

How Jerry West built the Showtime Lakers.

Jerry West’s tenure with the Lakers is a testament to his exceptional ability to identify talent and build winning teams. As the architect behind the Showtime Lakers, West’s contributions were pivotal in shaping one of the most dominant dynasties in NBA history. Here are some key moments that highlight his impact:

Convincing Pat Riley to Take Over as Head Coach

The Lakers won their first title of the Showtime era under coach Paul Westhead, but his inability to get along with Magic Johnson led to his dismissal in 1981. Owner Jerry Buss initially wanted Jerry West and Pat Riley to co-coach the team, but West, who had already experienced coaching, declined. Instead, West persuaded Riley to take on the head coaching role. This decision proved monumental, as Riley became one of the greatest coaches of all time, while West excelled in his executive role.

Jerry West’s Controversial Role in the Magic Johnson Draft

During the 1979 draft, when the Lakers had the No. 1 pick, West, then a scout, actually preferred Sidney Moncrief over Magic Johnson, as documented in Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime.” Despite West’s preference, the Lakers chose Johnson, a decision that turned out to be transformative for the franchise. While Moncrief had an impressive career, Johnson became an NBA legend, highlighting the sometimes unpredictable nature of draft decisions.

Finding Michael Cooper in the Third Round

In the 1978 draft, the Lakers struck gold with the 60th pick by selecting Michael Cooper. West, who was coaching at the time but also involved in personnel decisions, played a role in this choice. Cooper became a defensive stalwart, making eight All-Defensive teams and winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1987. His contributions were crucial to the Lakers’ five championships during the Showtime era.

 

Drafting James Worthy

One of West’s most notable draft successes was selecting James Worthy with the No. 1 pick in 1982. Worthy, coming off a stellar career at North Carolina, became a key player for the Lakers, helping them secure championships in 1985, 1987, and 1988. Worthy made seven All-Star teams and was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, solidifying West’s reputation as a masterful talent evaluator.

 

Signing Kurt Rambis

Kurt Rambis, initially drafted by the Knicks in 1980, struggled to find a foothold in the NBA until the Lakers signed him in 1981. West, then a scout, personally called Rambis to encourage him to try out for the team. Rambis’s defense, rebounding, and hustle made him a fan favorite and a valuable contributor to four championship teams.

 

Other Key Acquisitions

West’s knack for building a strong supporting cast was evident in several other signings. He brought in Byron Scott in 1983, A.C. Green in 1985, and Mychal Thompson in 1987. These players complemented the Lakers’ core stars, maintaining the team’s competitiveness throughout the Showtime era. From 1979 to 1991, the Lakers, under West’s guidance, achieved a remarkable 712-272 record, winning 72.4% of their games and securing five championships.