Jerry West is one of the NBA's greatest players. He is literally the logo. He needs no introduction. That is why eyebrows were raised when Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss listed her top five most important Lakers of all time... and West's name was noticeably absent.
Last month, Buss was asked by Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on their All The Smoke podcast to offer up the five most important Lakers in franchise history. She rattled off the usual suspects; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson. She then said LeBron James, which was a surprise, but not a huge one. The man is currently playing for her team. She's watching greatness unfold before her eyes and he just brought another championship to the organization. The final name on the list... was Phil Jackson, head coach of the dynasty team featuring Kobe and Shaq.
We can quibble all day about the "importance" of each of those individuals. It's a subjective concept and good arguments can be made for Shaq's inclusion over LeBron or Elgin Baylor over Jackson. The Lakers have such a storied history you can blindly pick someone who helped form one of their various dynasties and put together a decent case for appearing on a list like this.
It was still notable that West, who again is literally the logo of the NBA, was not even mentioned. West hasn't spoken publicly about it, though. Until yesterday, when he told Peter Vecsey on his podcast that Buss' list was "one of the most offensive things" he'd ever heard. Transcription via CBS Los Angeles:
“I saw the other day Jeanie Buss made a statement, the five most important Lakers, one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard in my life. I was there a lot of times, had a lot of success,” West told Vescey. “Be curious to know if they would have had that success if I hadn’t been there.”
“And I don’t ever take credit for stuff, I don’t. When I was around, maybe I was just a good luck charm,” West went on. “But I do know, that when this thing fell apart, there was a lot of years where they weren’t very good.”
I mean... the man has a point! He brought a championship to the franchise in 1972, their first in "modern" history and the first since 1954. West presided over the Lakers as the general manager from 1982-2000, a timespan in which they won five more titles. He was the man who traded for Bryant, one of the best players ever and a central member of five title teams. West's fingerprints are all over the organization dating back over 60 years. Sixty years! It's pretty hard to argue he isn't more important in the grand scheme of things than Jackson or LeBron, and he's definitely on the same level as Kareem/Magic/Kobe.
Recency bias plays a role in all of our thoughts and opinions. This is still a tough whiff by Buss, and West has let her know.