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Wilkes Stuns Clippers by Announcing His Retirement

December 25, 1985|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

Jamaal Wilkes, who played major roles on National Basketball Assn. championship teams at Golden State and with the Lakers in a distinguished 12-year career, had become little more than a bit player this season for the struggling Clippers, one of the league's most undistinguished franchises.

So, on Tuesday morning, Wilkes, 32, announced his retirement, saying in effect that he had too many good memories in his career to let it continue in such a manner.

Wilkes declined all interview requests Tuesday but agreed to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Sports Arena. He also issued a statement through the Clippers, briefly explaining the reasons for his sudden retirement.

"There were several factors involved . . . but the main reason was that I feel I was not making a significant contribution (to the Clippers)," Wilkes said in the statement. "At the same time, other (business) interests became more and more attractive.

"At this point in my life, I felt if I were to start over in a career, I'd rather it be a second career. Among the ventures I plan to get involved in would be to obtain my MBA degree in business as well as continuing the effort in my new (import) business."

News of Wilkes' retirement shocked Clipper Coach Don Chaney, who said he recently had heard talk that Wilkes might retire after the season.

"I'm sure it bothered Jamaal not playing much for the Clippers," Chaney said. "He's a proud guy. Like all great players, he wanted to retire gracefully. Fans should remember him as a great player, not a guy playing a few minutes off the bench. I'm sure he was uncomfortable that Rory White was playing ahead of him."

Carl Scheer, the Clippers' general manager, received the phone call from Wilkes Tuesday morning and called the manner in which Wilkes made the announcement "the strangest thing I've ever, ever heard of."

Said Scheer: "I'm sitting in my Sports Arena office all alone and the phone rings. A guy asks for (trainer) Mike Shimensky in the training room. I said Mike wasn't there. At that point, he says, 'Carl, is that you? This is Jamaal. I'm not going to play in Portland (tonight). I'm going to retire.'

"I was shocked. I told Jamaal to call Don (Chaney) and we would set something up. I never heard from him again. I wanted to be able to have him retire with the dignity and respect he deserves."

Wilkes, who had never played on a losing team until this season, leaves with four NBA championship rings--1975 with Golden State and 1980, '82 and '84 with the Lakers--and a career scoring average of 17.6 points. He ranks 43rd on the all-time NBA scoring list.

Financially, Wilkes can afford to retire. He still will be paid full salary from the six-year, $5.3-million contract he signed with the Lakers in 1982.

Wilkes earns a guaranteed $860,000 this season, $800,000 in 1986-87 and $747,000 in 1987-88. About half of each season's salary is deferred. Wilkes will receive the deferred payments between 1990 and 1997.

Even though the Lakers waived Wilkes Aug. 28 and the Clippers signed him Sept. 27 for the NBA minimum of $70,000, the Lakers still have to pay the rest of Wilkes' lucrative contract.

The Clippers, meanwhile, can use $70,000 to sign another player. But they will go with 11 players tonight in Portland.

"Jamaal doesn't need the money," Chaney said. "He was playing with us because he loves the game of basketball and he wanted to show he could still play. I want to remember him as one of the NBA's best players."

In his first 10 NBA seasons, Wilkes had been one of the NBA's best small forwards, accurate with an unorthodox outside shot and able to slip by taller and bigger opponents inside.

Wilkes may be most remembered for his 36-point performance in Game 6 of the NBA championship series in 1980, helping the Lakers eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers. Typically for the unassuming Wilkes, though, that performance was overshadowed by rookie Magic Johnson, who scored 42 points that night playing center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar .

But Wilkes, nicknamed Silk for his smooth playing style, had seen his career become as rough as wool in the last year and a half. He lost his starting spot on the Lakers to James Worthy early last season and then missed the final 40 games and the playoffs after tearing ligaments in his left knee.

After rehabilitating his knee last summer, Wilkes was waived by the Lakers, but he was picked up by the Clippers, who wanted Wilkes' scoring off the bench and also welcomed the fact that he was a popular local player.

Wilkes said he felt totally healthy during training camp and showed glimpses of his earlier form in the early season. But he sprained his ankle Nov. 12 at Golden State and missed the next 13 games.

When Wilkes returned to action about two weeks ago, Chaney decided to stay with White as his third forward. Wilkes did not play in two games last week and, in what turned out to be his final professional game, he scored two points in eight minutes last Saturday at Sacramento.

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