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West's Farewell Is Puzzling for a Variety of Reasons

August 08, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

I can't get past this business of being so uptight and so nervous about a basketball game that Mr. Clutch would have to get in his car and drive around L.A. listening to Dr. Laura before he'd ever switch to Chick.

Something has gone off-kilter here. I mean this whole thing is ridiculous, if not disturbing. A man works his whole life, brilliant beyond compare at each stage of his career, and when it comes time for fulfilling closure topped by an NBA championship, Jerry West bids farewell in a letter.

Why work so hard, fret so much, care so deeply about what you do only to return from a vacation in Alaska to leave behind Laker fans with no apparent sign of self-satisfaction?

Is there something more to this retirement story than just a tired and stressed-out Laker executive vice president?

It's a peculiar situation, the way this L.A. icon has disappeared. Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis, a pair of lieutenants understandably more concerned with their own futures, are sitting before me conducting the Jerry West news conference as if this is the way you say goodbye to a lifetime of excellence, as significant as any in L.A. sports history.

I would think death, or the most serious illness or injury, should have been the only thing to keep owner Jerry Buss and Coach Phil Jackson from being here to pay homage.

It is a common-courtesy disgrace, an indictment of poor judgment and way beyond the "out of the country" or "lost in Montana" excuses. Where's the class, the respect, or just a sense of duty?


MAYBE THE REPORTS that West's relationship with Buss has been strained are true, the same for speculation that West was feeling the pinch from Jackson's imposing presence as well as Jackson's courtship of the owner's daughter.

Whatever the employment hassles, this is not right. A rug has been set down in a corner of the gym to keep the media from scratching the floor that Shaq and Kobe will use, but there is no sign of either superstar.

It's not like this news conference has been hastily called--West let it be known weeks ago he was finished--but this affair has all the feeling of just another free-agent signing.

There is no West in attendance either, presumably ensconced in his car somewhere on the 101, caught somewhere on the dial once again between Dr. Laura and the live coverage of the news conference.

"If you know Jerry, you knew he wouldn't be here," Kupchak said, and with that, an era ends.

Maybe it would have been too emotional to attend his own retirement news conference, too tough to share the memories of a marvelous career, too final.

By now, of course, West knows what Dr. Laura would say: "Yo, Mr. Clutch, suck it up and have some fun. And when your friends and fans want to tell you how much they enjoyed what you accomplished, Gadzooks, let 'em.

"And as for those other lugs who blew off your retirement news conference, you know what I'd tell 'em. . . ."

Ah, back to Chick.


DODGER MANAGER Davey Johnson says some fans outside the team's dugout Sunday night were yelling he should be fired after allowing Carlos Perez to bat for himself in the fifth with the bases loaded and the Brewers leading, 7-0.

"One of them was pretty loud," Johnson said while making eye contact.

I was in Orange County on Sunday night and I have witnesses.

Johnson said he had no choice but to bat Perez because he was playing the game short on relief pitchers, in part because Antonio Osuna had become ill.

Watching Ismael Valdes can do that to you.


UPDATE ON OSUNA: He's feeling better, but the Dodgers appear dead, beaten Monday by a guy who hadn't won in the majors before while allowing 27 runs in 29 2/3 innings.


THE ANGELS ARE 1-5 for the month of August. Taking a look at the schedule for the remainder of the month with games against the Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox and Indians, and keeping in mind that the team went 8-21 last August, would you take the over or under in beating that mark?

Hint: The last two starters to record wins are Kent Bottenfield and Jarrod Washburn--one now pitches for Philadelphia, the other is headed back to the disabled list after injuring his arm Monday.


SO I AM getting into tennis. Venus Williams is just awesome, in a class all by herself, just overwhelming. And Anna Kournikova is just awesome, in a class by herself, just overwhelming. And they tell me neither one is going to be in the Classic at the Manhattan Country Club this week, but I can listen to Monica Seles grunt.


THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL League, while spurning L.A. this year, has announced it will be coming to town next year.

Smelling salts, please, for Michael Ovitz.

No, the NFL has not picked Ed Roski over Ovitz to own an expansion franchise, and yes, everyone remains on alert to stop the Cardinals or Raiders, but the league is bringing the NFL Experience to Los Angeles next season.

You might say you have already had the NFL Experience--suffering through the demand for public money, personal seat licenses and droning speeches from councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas--

but this project is a traveling show of interactive entertainment for youngsters, which will tour 25 East Coast and southern cities before making its journey west.

L.A. youngsters, unfamiliar with a football, will be allowed to substitute a soccer ball in all the NFL Experience activities.


TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Stephen:

"I don't know what the fuss is about Ismael Valdes. According to The Times, he's hitting .267. What do they want? Pitching too?"

That's why I have trouble with Johnson as a manager. He pulls Valdes before he even gets a chance to bat.


T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:

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