This is an article from the June 28, 2010 issue
L.A.'s Hall of Fame guard and former general manager delivered his considered opinion on Kobe Bryant's place in the Lakers' pantheon
Dan Patrick:When you called Kobe the greatest Laker of all time earlier this month, were you surprised at the reaction?
Jerry West: Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker to ever play. Period. I love Magic Johnson and his contribution, but Magic Johnson had a lot more help, to be honest with you. He played, sometimes, with five All-Stars. Kobe Bryant is just a different talent. He will go down as one of the two or three greatest players of all time, I think. His ability to do things that other people can't do, his ability to win games late, his defensive ability. He has an all-around game. When you look at him, you don't see what's inside. And I think that's what really sets the great ones apart.
DP:Why does Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] get shortchanged in that argument?
JW: Well, when you look at it, Kareem was traded here. He didn't start his career here. But to me, Kareem and Elgin Baylor are two of the most overlooked Lakers of all time, I think. ... Magic Johnson never won an NBA championship without Abdul-Jabbar. That's pretty well documented, but no one ever talks about it. I think Jerry Buss had such a special relationship with Magic. I think you heard [after Game 7] that Magic called him the greatest owner in all of professional sports. But I just think that the personality of Kareem is quiet. In many ways he was a player who never called attention to himself. With Magic Johnson, he has a personality bigger than life. And Elgin Baylor didn't ever do anything to call attention to himself either. His play spoke for itself. I think the Lakers have had the greatest group of players who have been at the top of the game. When you go measure the 10 greatest players, the Lakers might have three or four of them on that list, which is remarkable.
DP:I know, even as humble as you are, you're in the conversation.
JW: Well, Dan, that was years ago. Long ago and far away. I really try not to live in the past.
DP:Facts are facts though, Jerry. What you did in your era, what Kobe did in his era, or what Michael Jordan did in his era. Greatness is greatness.
JW: I love to play the game. A lot of people play it today because there are enormous amounts of money. There was very little money when we played, and you did it because you liked to compete. I've always felt that if I had one talent, it was the ability to compete at a high level. I really wasn't afraid of somebody's name. I wasn't afraid of a team. I think a lot of players in this league who have great talent and who play the game at a high level, sometimes there's a little something missing. And I don't know what that is. But I think if my career had been a little different in terms of winning championships—not getting there, but winning championships—I might be able to look at myself and say I accomplished more than some players have done in their entire career. But for my body of work here in Los Angeles, I've had an incredibly lucky and fortunate career, and I'm so thankful that I was able to play it with one team and stay with one team my entire career.
• Money Card
In 2004 Albert Pujols signed a seven-year, $100 million contract. With one year left on the deal—and having seen Ryan Howard ink a five-year, $125 million extension with the Phillies in April—I asked the three-time NL MVP if he needed to be baseball's richest player in order to stay put. "I leave that up to my agent and the St. Louis Cardinals," he said. "I want to be [in] St. Louis. But like I tell my agent, when it comes to [agreeing on a new contract], we're going to take care of business."
• Royal Choice
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says LeBron James's free agency informed his decision to turn down the Cavs: "I looked at [it] differently than any other job [offer I've received]: The owner [Dan Gilbert] is a Michigan State grad, the compensation, where it was [Izzo prefers the Midwest], having a chance to win a championship. If [LeBron] was there and all those other factors were there, it probably would have had [a] bigger impact."
• Line of the week
Texas football coach Mack Brown on why he wanted to remain in the Big 12 instead of jumping to the Pac-10: "Our players' parents were pretty adamant that they [be able to] drive to the games and see their kids play."
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Ron Artest explains his shout-out to his psychiatrist.
2. Don Mattingly talks about being the Dodgers' manager.
THE FINE PRINT: L.A. fans got out of hand after the Lakers won their 16th NBA title. Police reported more than 500 incidents of people ordering red wine with fish.