Oakland just can’t seem to stay out of the biblical spotlight. First, that wacky old minister blows his Rapture prediction, then those wacky Warriors bring in the basketball Messiah to resurrect their downtrodden team.
Jerry West sounded every bit the franchise savior when introduced as Golden State’s new team adviser and executive board member in San Francisco on Tuesday. The Hall of Famer, who turns 73 Saturday, brings not only seven NBA championships as a player, general manager and executive, but instant street cred to a team that has been on a rocky road for so long fans at Oracle Arena were getting ready to wear helmets and seat belts.
“I’m not here to be a decision-maker, just another set of eyes. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” West demurred. But team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber know they pulled off a major coup in bringing in one of the game’s most revered figures and are not going to keep him out of the loop on major decisions.
Although West’s likeness is emblazoned on the NBA logo, his message is all about sacrificing personal glory for team success.
“Humility is the greatest word I know. When an individual dominates an organization, it’s not a good thing,” he said. But in the next breath, he said, “I’m no shrinking violet. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask.”
Now, if you’re wondering why he would join a team that has rivaled the Los Angeles Clippers for near eternal futility, well it turns out Mr. Clutch loves a good challenge. Two years after becoming president of the expansion Memphis Grizzlies, they won 50 games and made the playoffs for the first time and West was honored as NBA Executive of the Year for the second time.
“That was one of the most enjoyable years of my life,” West said. “I felt empowered. In L.A., winning was expected.”
Amazingly, the man who was an All-Star for all of his 14 NBA seasons with the Lakers and a seven-time league scoring champ won only one title as a player (1972).
“Losses drive me the most,” he said. “Losses to the Celtics still haunt me today.”
West praised the Warriors’ athleticism and young backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, who he insists can be an effective pairing because they can both create shots.
“The Warriors must play together longer, get bigger inside and draft better,” said West, who was part of four championship teams when he was in the Lakers’ front office.
The first task for West and the Warriors is hiring a head coach. Maybe Jerry Sloan or Jeff Van Gundy will rethink their decisions not to interview for the Warriors’ job now that West is on board.
As for free agents, how about going after Grizzlies rising star Marc Gasol, who West traded for in his last season in Memphis?
After the news conference, one Warrior told me, “Jerry is the same guy now as he was then. Success hasn’t changed him. He’s a great asset to the Warriors. This is really going to turn the corner for us.”
Finally, there’s light at the end of the Warriors’ tunnel. For once, it’s not a train coming right at them.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.