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Jamaal Wilkes hopes to end 'Silk' curse with Hall

The former UCLA and Lakers forward believes he should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and his illustrious former teammates and coaches agree.

January 12, 2009|JERRY CROWE

Jamaal Wilkes usually is not one to toot his own horn.

It's an admirable quality, but friends tell him his reluctance to promote himself could be one reason the former UCLA All-American and Showtime-era Lakers forward has been shunned by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

So now he's lobbying.

"I believe I should be in," says Wilkes, whose nomination is under consideration by the selection committee again this year. "I'm not obsessed with it, but I believe I deserve to be in."

Wilkes' opinion is shared by Hall of Famers who played with and against the former Santa Barbara High standout (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Rick Barry) as well as Hall of Famers who coached him (John Wooden, Pat Riley).

All wrote letters to the Hall on Wilkes' behalf, as did Hall of Famer Bill Sharman, who coached the Lakers to their first NBA title in Los Angeles.

Riley, voted into the Hall last year, noted last summer during his acceptance speech in Springfield, Mass., that the smooth operator known as "Silk" was "one of the greatest small forwards ever" and promised that Wilkes, seated in the audience, "must one day get into this Hall of Fame. . . . It's going to be our goal."

Wrote Johnson in his letter of recommendation: "What made 'Showtime' was versatility, knowledge and skills, and no one -- no one -- brought that to the table more than Jamaal Wilkes."

Wooden, once asked to describe his ideal player, told the New York Post: "I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that?"

So why isn't Wilkes in the Hall of Fame?

"A wonderful question," Walton e-mails, "and one that needs to be asked daily until this travesty is corrected."

One possibility is that the former Keith Wilkes, after graduating from high school, was never again the best player on his team.

At UCLA, where the 6-foot-6 beanpole was a two-time All-American for teams that won two NCAA titles and 88 consecutive games, Wilkes was overshadowed by Walton.

With the Golden State Warriors, who won their only NBA title during Wilkes' first pro season, the league's rookie of the year played second banana to the high-scoring Barry.

And with the Lakers, of course, Wilkes was all but eclipsed by the magnificence of Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar.

"I don't think he got the credit he deserved, either in college or the pros," Wooden says. "He was unspectacular, but he played his same consistent game all the time."

Wilkes averaged 15 points and 7.4 rebounds as a three-year starter at UCLA, helping the Bruins to consecutive 30-0 seasons and the 1972 and '73 NCAA championships in his sophomore and junior seasons.

In 12 NBA seasons, eight with the Lakers, he averaged 17.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. So deadly was Wilkes from the baseline, despite an unorthodox slingshot delivery, that Chick Hearn coined the memorable term "20-foot layup."

A three-time All-Star, Wilkes helped his teams win four titles.

Based solely on his NBA numbers, it's "about a 50-50 proposition" that he'll be elected to basketball's highest honor, says Justin Kubatko of Sports Reference LLC, whose website estimates Hall of Fame probability. "That's not my personal opinion; it's based on what voters have done in the past."

All levels of basketball are considered, however, so Wilkes' candidacy should be buoyed by his college success.

Wilkes, 55, was first nominated in 2000 but was dropped from the ballot after three years when he garnered not a single vote from an anonymous nine-person selection committee.

Last year, UCLA and the Lakers nominated him again. This year's finalists will be announced next month.

Of his inability to gain traction from voters, Wilkes says, "I think part of it is, I'm not involved in the game currently, therefore I lack visibility. I don't get the opportunity to network."

An investment advisor and father of three, Wilkes has not been involved in basketball since retiring from the NBA in December 1985 -- after playing his last 13 games with the Clippers.

He and Valerie, his wife of 28 years, live in Playa del Rey. Their older son, Omar, played basketball at Kansas and California. Younger son Jordan is a 7-foot junior center at Cal and daughter Sabreen, a model like her brother Omar, spent one season on the women's volleyball team at UCLA.

Wilkes laughs at the notion that his having played alongside a number of all-time greats might hinder his candidacy.

"I don't know if that should be held against me, but it's certainly a point of view," he says. "I think the other side of the coin is, there was a great deal of consistency not just within one dynasty but two, college and pro, and that I was a part of the only championship that the Warriors have ever won.

"I certainly can't dispute that notion because I did play with great players -- and I loved every second of it."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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