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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

West Deserves a Break, Just Not a Long One

April 21, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

Here's my question about Jerry West's retirement, which may or may not occur this summer and may or may not be temporary and may or may not end his association with the Lakers: What took so long?

As a player, he was known as Mr. Clutch. As the Lakers' vice president, he's the most tortured sports executive I've ever met. He could play the game, but he can't watch one.

I've always figured that was because he believed he could have outcoached his coaches and outplayed his players, and, most of the time, he has been right.

The morning after Boston's Dennis Johnson hit a Mr. Clutch-like shot to beat the Lakers in a 1984 playoff game, West called me over to his car in the Forum parking lot and slammed Pat Riley's coaching like I've never heard before or since.

West, in a rage, also once referred to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a "dog." When it got back to Abdul-Jabbar, he took it better than anyone expected. He knew West was capable of saying almost anything in one of his agitated states and, unlike Riley, never let it come between them.

As hard as West can be on coaches and players, however, he's harder on himself.

His approach has worked for the Lakers. I'm not sure if he's a genius. I reserve that accolade for people such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Bill Walsh, but West is as close to it as an NBA executive has ever been.

When he became the Laker general manager in 1982, the league's other top teams were Boston and Philadelphia. They were displaced by the end of the decade by Detroit. Look where those teams are now compared to the Lakers.

But 15 years of enormous, self-imposed pressure have taken their toll. Closing in on 60, he finally realized he has earned a vacation. Isn't it funny how some people who aren't as smart, such as Cedric Ceballos, arrive at that conclusion so much faster?

Go skiing, Jerry. Then come back.

*

If Bill Fitch is so smart, why did he take the Clipper job in the first place? . . .

You'll have to trust me on this one. He is smart, capable of matching Xs and O's with any NBA coach. . . .

The game hasn't passed him by. No way. . . .

But times did. Most players didn't like playing for him, making it difficult for the Clippers to attract free agents even if Donald Sterling decided he wanted them. . . .

Next victim. . . .

The Dodgers had other reasons besides money for not pursuing closer Rod Beck as a free agent. . . .

If you watched him shut down the Dodgers for the Cubs on Sunday, that's the pitcher he was for the Giants early last season. . . .

But by the time the Giants and Dodgers met in that crucial series late last season, the question was whether Beck or Todd Worrell had become the bigger arsonist. . . .

One reason the Giants won the division title is they traded with the White Sox for another closer, Roberto Hernandez. . . .

UC Santa Barbara Athletic Director Gary Cunningham, formerly UCLA's basketball coach, was back at work only two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack. . . .

Anyone who saw Luke Walton stuff a Korleone Young shot Sunday night at the Great Western Forum in the Eddie Jones All-Star Classic has to wonder whether Young is ready for the NBA. . . .

Jerome Moiso, the 6-foot-11 forward from Guadeloupe who will attend UCLA if he scores high enough on his SAT, looks like Sam Perkins, only taller. . . .

Dan Gadzuric, the 6-11 Dutch center, has narrowed his choices to the NBA or UCLA. . . .

Advisors closest to him say it's 70-30 he'll choose the Bruins. . . .

Brandon Granville, the Westchester point guard who signed with USC, looks as though he could pressure Kevin Augustine for playing time. . . .

The last time USC played host to a Pacific 10 golf tournament, Tiger Woods won it. . . .

The Trojans are hosts again this week, for the women's tournament at Tijeras Creek in Rancho Santa Margarita. . . .

The favorite is another phenom, Arizona State freshman Grace Park. . . .

One of Bill Rees' signees while serving as UCLA's recruiting coordinator was offensive tackle Chad Overhauser. . . .

As the Chicago Bears' director of college scouting, Rees drafted Overhauser in the seventh round Sunday. . . .

No one except Skip Hicks was too surprised he wasn't drafted until the 69th pick, in the third round, because of questions about his knees and his durability. . . .

But who would have guessed he would be drafted after Stanford fullback Jon Ritchie. . . .

Ritchie was taken with the 64th pick, by Al Davis. That explains it. . . .

The Raiders' first pick, Charles Woodson, will be at the Key Club in West Hollywood tonight for a draft celebration hosted by Johnnie Cochran and sponsored by Hush Puppies.

Who did you think, Bruno Magli?

*

While wondering why we needed the Three Tenors at Dodger Stadium when we had Vin Scully, I was thinking: I'm not sure whether it was more inevitable that a Kenyan would win the Boston Marathon or that Fitch would be fired, Reggie White can now pursue a career in anthropology, good for Bret Saberhagen.

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