It seems bizarre that Jerry West has to wear a credential at the Finals. Shouldn’t his credential be a picture of the NBA logo, which was made in his likeness?
But there he was early in the series, sitting at the scorer’s table at Oracle Arena, holding court with a credential that read, “Jerry West, Warriors executive.”
West has helped resurrect the Lakers, Grizzlies, and now Warriors since his playing career ended more than 40 years ago. At 78, West remains energetic and opinionated, still annoyed about his teams’ numerous Finals losses to the Celtics, protective of the NBA brand, and brutally honest about his legacy.
West played 14 seasons and reached 14 All-Star Games, but his Lakers lost to the Celtics all six times the teams met in the Finals.
“I’m much more serious about everything, wired completely differently, and when you’re like that [losing] hurts more,” West said. “It’s just like here’s a store window and when you’re little, there’s candy behind that window. And you can almost touch it but you can’t get there. There’s more great stories in losing locker rooms than winning locker rooms, and no one cares to go there.
“This country, as everyone does, relishes winners. There’s some devastated people in that other locker room, and unfortunately for me it was many occasions.”
West said it is still painful to think about falling short so many times.
“Sure, [it hurts] even today. No fun to get there so many times and not get the results you want to get, regardless of how you play,” he said. “In the playoffs, the best players are supposed to play better. I did. It made no difference. We weren’t good enough.”
Despite his age, West still considers himself fiercely competitive.
“My life as an athlete is over and I appreciate the fact that I was able to play in this league and compete in this league, life is nothing unless you compete,” West said. “From the time I was little to even now, I was competitive. You have to be competitive in other ways [when you’re done playing]. I appreciate skill. I appreciate humility in players and we’ve got a bunch of those guys [with the Warriors].”
West then defended the Finals record of the Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who entered this year 2-4 in Finals. West said the criticism of James has been “ridiculous” considering what he has contributed to his teams over the years. When asked if there is a comparison between James and Wilt Chamberlain, for their physical prowess, and for how some blamed them for not winning more championships, West defended his former teammate.
“I just know Wilt Chamberlain played the game at a level few had played the game,” West said. “And with social media and the press, everyone looks for a different story. That’s something I did not have to put up with, and I will tell you today, I would not have any kind of social account. I would not. My conversations would be with you in person. I would never put anything [on social media]. That’s going to be there forever. When you’re down and irritated, you might say something you’ll regret later in life. I would not do that, period.”
When asked whether the pain of his Finals record as a player has been eased by winning as an executive, West said, “Listen, I don’t really want to talk about my Finals record. My record is what it is. The only thing I care about is winning and I’ve been fortunate enough to be with franchises that have done a lot of winning. I’m thrilled to be involved [with the Warriors], particularly at this point in my life, they thought I had something maybe I could contribute to.
“When people view you in a certain way, it’s flattering. I don’t seek compliments. I don’t want them, period. That’s not who I am at all, period. The thing that means most to me is to do what they ask me to do. I’m just part of a group here that I love to be around. It’s fun to be around young people. They keep you young, trust me.”
West, who is a huge boxing fan and was a friend of the late Muhammad Ali, added an interesting note:
“My first two heroes in life were black men, Joe Louis and Ray Robinson,” West said. “I got to know them both. I got to know Ray particularly well. He’s someone I not only admired as a fighter but as a person. Those two guys had an electric personality. Louis was not like Ray. But he was America’s hope. I’ve been a big boxing fan all my life and was fortunate I got to know people I wanted to meet.”
And when Chamberlain had the idea of fighting Ali, West warned him to stay on the basketball court.
“I said to him when I heard about it, ‘You know what it’s going to be like. Ever been in the woods when you’re chopping down a tree,’ ” West said. ‘ “When he’s ready to chop you down, it’s going to go timber!’ I did say that to him.”
Bogut at home with Warriors
Andrew Bogut is the starting center for the Warriors, has won an NBA title, and is playing for a second in this, his 11th NBA season. It seems like he was being selected No. 1 overall by the Bucks centuries ago, but it was 2005. Bogut’s career has been marred by injuries. He has never made an All-Star team but is a top-notch defender. And his offensive skills have never been the same following a grotesque elbow injury in 2011.
Bogut may never have lived up to his billing, but he has a championship ring and is playing a key role on a great team. Has Bogut had a good career because he helped a team to a championship? Or does never being an All-Star bother the Australian?
“Early on, it was tough,” he said. “My first year and second year, you try to go out there and put up big numbers to prove your worth. But you come to realize that big numbers in this league can be hollow. There’s a lot of guys who averaged huge numbers on bad teams and it doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“I was one of those guys who put up decent numbers in Milwaukee and we never really got anywhere. Now, I’m here [with the Warriors] playing a role and I really don’t worry about the draft.”
Bogut was selected three picks ahead of potential Hall of Famer Chris Paul. If there was a do-over, Bogut would remain in the top 5 to 10. He had established himself as one of the league’s emerging centers before dislocating his elbow in a collision with the Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, an injury that robbed Bogut of his shooting ability.
“When I got selected, I didn’t know I was going to go No. 1,” Bogut said. “I thought I would go top three or top four. I was lucky enough to go No. 1. At that point, I thought I deserved it. I had a really good college career and played very well.”
Nineteen players from the first round of the 2005 Draft are either out of the NBA or never played in the league. Bogut’s staying power is overlooked, especially considering his injury history.
“A lot of guys had bad injuries, a lot of guys ended up going to Europe or going wherever to play,” Bogut said of his draft. “A handful of years in the NBA is an accomplishment. To get to double digits, I would have never thought of that as a kid. The opportunity to play in the NBA, it doesn’t happen to a lot of people.
“There’s always going to be naysayers, there’s always going to be people that talk you up. That’s something you’ve got to deal with.”
Bogut was willing to sacrifice offensive numbers when he was traded to the Warriors in March 2012. Four years ago, the Warriors were an improving franchise, but their meteoric rise could not have been predicted.
Bogut served as one of the final pieces, along with the emergence of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and the addition of Andre Iguodala.
When asked about his career had he remained with the Bucks, Bogut said, “I probably wouldn’t have a championship, to be honest with you. The individual stuff, I really don’t care. I’d rather have some rings and be part of a winning culture. Would I rather be in Milwaukee, averaging 16 [points] and 10 [rebounds] and getting individual accolades and be drinking a beer at the end of the April watching the playoffs? Or would I rather be averaging half that production but be part of a winning culture, a winning group, and winning a championship ring? I’m fine with that.”
Like many Warriors, Bogut said sacrificing personal numbers and accepting his role has been a key.
“A lot of players say they’re fine with [sacrificing to win] but they’re not,” he said. “A lot of players [say], ‘I want to win, but I want to win on my terms.’ I really don’t care at this point in my career. I’ve had those individual successes. But that really wasn’t enjoyable because I was home in the summer, home early. I’ll take this any day of the week.”
Carter grateful for opportunity
Vince Carter was named the NBA’s Teammate of the Year this past week. Carter, who has played the past two seasons with the Grizzlies, indicated he wants to play two more, which would give him an even 20 in the league.
Carter is grateful that he entered the NBA in the late 1990s, when many legends, despite being near the end of their careers, were still playing. He discussed those early years with the Raptors.
“I was fortunate, my first couple years I had Charles Oakley, who played with Michael Jordan. I had Kevin Willis, who played with Dominique Wilkins. I had Dee Brown, who played with Larry Bird; Doug Christie, who played with Magic Johnson; and Antonio Davis, who played with Reggie Miller. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Carter said. “I had these guys around me to show me what it was like. In media scrums this is how you handle yourself. This is what you should talk about. This is what you should say.
“On the court, how to prepare myself each and every night. It helped me. As a rookie, I felt like I had played against some of the best players in the world prior to my rookie year. So it’s just something that’s always been a part of me. And once I kind of learned that and got to see what it did for me, it was something I always wanted to do for the next generation of guys, even guys who were actually rookies or older than me at that time.”
Carter has enjoyed a storied career but has never reached the Finals. He came close in 2010 when the Magic lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and in 2001, when the Raptors dropped Game 7 of the East finals by 1 point to the 76ers.
“Just to get that opportunity to play in the Finals is something I’m looking forward to,” said Carter. “If I stick around long enough, hopefully I’ll get to actually play in it. Watching it is one thing, playing it is another. Hopefully, one day. I’ve never been to a Finals before. It’s tough when you get knocked out and sometimes as a player, you just don’t want to watch it. But at the same time, when it’s over with, you say, ‘Yeah, at least we lost to the champions.’ We could say that last year losing to Golden State.”
Another local company has offered Kevin Durant perks to sign with the Celtics. Fasten has offered Durant free rides if he comes to Boston, joining Legal Sea Foods, which offered Durant free crab legs — one of his favorite foods — if he decides to join the Celtics. The chances of Durant signing with Boston are remote, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is expected to get at least a meeting with the former league MVP . . . Paul Pierce told the Globe this past week he will take a vacation with his family to discuss his future and will decide soon whether to return for a 19th season. He has worked for ABC at the Finals and said he could possibly pursue broadcasting after his playing days. Pierce said he has tried to talk former teammate Kevin Garnett into pursuing television after playing but suggested a good portion of Garnett’s words would have to be bleeped out. Pierce also has shown interest in becoming an NBA general manager and has not counted out working for the Celtics in a front office capacity . . . The Celtics are working out draft prospects as part of their decision on what to do with the third overall pick. The team is still open to moving the pick in the right deal but would like to work out Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Kris Dunn, even though it doesn’t appear any of those players will be their choice, because they will be drafted higher than third, or in Dunn’s case would be joining an already crowded backcourt . . .
One player who has made himself a considerable amount of money this postseason is the Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson, considered a veteran who would play limited minutes when he signed with Cleveland but who is now a starter in the Finals. Jefferson has shown great athleticism even at age 35, impressing former teammate Luke Walton, an assistant coach with the Warriors. “It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Walton said. “I have been retired a lot of years and he’s still out there playing.” Jefferson will be a free agent this summer and could earn a multiyear deal for a contender. Jefferson was a first-round pick in 2001 by the Nets.
New York Liberty forward Swin Cash announced that she will retire at the end of the 2016 season. Here’s a look at the 15-year veteran’s place in WNBA history:
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.