Underrated, Part 1: Get To Know Your Logo

Some say we need to change the NBA logo to a more current player. It’s apparent we all need a reminder of how great a player Jerry West was.

When you’re a member of the NBA’s Top 50 Players Ever, inside the top thirty players on the All-Time Scoring list, and the logo of the league, it’s almost baffling to say you’re underrated. But, in a basketball world suddenly concerned with how many championships a player has won in their career, Jerry West’s game gets forgotten.

A common argument from younger basketball fans is:

“So-and-so was playing against weaker competition during his era, and he only won xx championship(s). He couldn’t even make a roster spot on the Phoenix Suns now.”

And while that’s completely insulting, the foundation of that statement is not entirely incorrect. Of course, the game has gotten better in the 40+ years since Jerry suited up. But that doesn’t mean we should discount all of his achievements simply because he played so long ago. Sure, I’ll concede that walking away from the game with only one championship does hurt his legacy somewhat. I mean, he recorded fantastic regular season and playoff numbers, enjoyed individual and team success, but losing more times in the Finals than he won, what kind of player does that ultimately make him? (LeBron)

I can understand the argument because although players that dominated their eras, like Jerry West, were decades ahead of their competition, the game does eventually catch up to their talent. And sometimes it’s hard for those who didn’t watch at the time to get the full experience of what it was like to watch a player from his era. Maybe a little help is needed?

I’m here to provide that help. I’m going to explain to someone who was born in my time (Fuckin’ Millennials) what kind of a player Jerry West truly was. What qualifies me to do such a thing? I have what phony ass psychics refer to as an “old soul”. I have been known to enjoy music, tv, movies, as well as sports, from the 80’s, 70’s, and 60’s, art from way before my time. Which means, I have the ability to appreciate said art in the time it was created (Except for the Mona Lisa. Can we all just agree that da Vinci painted a very ugly woman? Oh, you don’t agree with me? Would you hang that shit anywhere in your fucking house? I didn’t think so. Now, the song by Slick Rick? That’s the masterpiece!)

From my experience, I think the easiest way to relate the sheer magnitude of something from the past is to compare it to something from today. Admittedly, I’m not sure you can completely encompass a player of Jerry West’s caliber into one current player. He’s the logo for a reason. So, I’m going to try my best to Frankenstein him together using three players from this generation.

One Part LeBron James: Yes, I said it. Jerry West has a lot in common with the athletic man-child and newly christened G.O.A.T. of this era, LeBron James, and here’s why. LeBron has been getting murdered for his 3-6 Finals record, but, fortunately for him, he doesn’t hold the distinction for most Finals losses for an NBA player. That belongs to Jerry West, whose NBA Finals record stands at an unimpressive 1-8. Now, if LeBron fans can defend a man losing six times in the Finals, allow me to defend a man who has lost eight in his career.

In 2012, LeBron was lucky enough to have reached the Finals to face a talented but young and still developing Thunder team (Durant: 5th year, Westbrook: 4th year, Harden/Ibaka: 3rd year). How did the Thunder manage to reach the NBA Finals if they were truly not yet ready? The league had just completed a lockout shortened season. The last time a lockout shortened season took place (1999), an 8th seeded New York Knicks team reached the Finals, making this the only season when this has ever happened. Weird things happen during these lockout shortened seasons. Unfortunately for West, he never had the same opportunity to drag a bunch of youngsters out behind the woodshed. West had only ever met one of two teams in the Finals: Bill Russell’s dominant Boston Celtics, and the Super Knicks teams of the 1970’s, wielding Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, and plenty more.

Similarly, LeBron’s losses have all come from basically two teams: Three recent Finals losses to the Super Warriors, two to the previous crown holder of “This Generation’s Model Organization”, the San Antonio Spurs, and a surprising series loss to the Mavericks. This is his hardest to defend, since to me, this would be like if Jordan lost in 1993 to Charles Barkley’s Suns. Yes, they were a good team, and Charles was the regular season MVP, but we all expected Jordan (LeBron) to pull this one out. Again, because West never played a third or fourth team, like LeBron did, in any of his nine Finals appearances, we are forced to reserve judgement. We have no way of knowing for sure, the way we do with LeBron, if he would have crushed the opposition (Thunder, 2012), or disappointed his fans (Mavericks, 2011).

Since both players unfairly accumulated Finals losses to basically the same two juggernaut franchises, it’s only fair that we look at what they did against them. Jerry West suffered two Finals losses to the Knicks in 1970 and 1973, but was able to secure his lone championship against them, in 1972. LeBron has a pair of losses to the Spurs, in 2007 and 2014, but, like West, he was also able to sandwich one Finals victory against them in 2013. The Warriors have long tormented LeBron, from 2015-2018, but he was lucky enough to defeat them in 2016. In a Game 7 on the road, no less, and rewarding him sweet, sweet vengeance against two of the three teams who defeated him in the Finals (The Mavericks have yet to reach the Finals again).

West, although given his fair share of opportunities, wasn’t as fortunate. He lost all of his six Finals meetings with Boston, from 1962 to 1969, the last year of which bore his greatest chance: A hard fought Game 7 of his own, on his home floor (in contrast to LeBron’s opportunity), and what would just so happen to be Bill Russell’s (West’s long-time arch-rival) farewell game. West undoubtedly wanted nothing more than to finally beat Russell’s Celtics, and this was his final opportunity to do so; However, the Lakers would go on to lose the game 108-106, off a lucky shot by Don Nelson, resulting in then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke having to remove the celebratory balloons from the Forum rafters, one by one.

Further fueling my argument for his comparison with LeBron was that West has the unique distinction of being the only losing player to be awarded a NBA Finals MVP. This was awarded to him for his heroics during the aforementioned 1969 Finals against Boston, in which he averaged a gaudy 37.9 PPG (including one 53 point game, and three 40+ games), 4.7 RPG, 7.4 APG on 49.0% shooting. That Game 7 I talked about earlier? He dropped 42 points, 12 assists, and 13 rebounds, playing all 48 minutes of the contest. And who knows what further havoc he created on the defensive end? (More on that, later). The only other time this situation could (should) have occurred was in 2015, when LeBron averaged 35.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 8.8 APG on 39.8% shooting, only to lose to the Golden State Warriors. LeBron’s last game that series? Game 6 he recorded 32 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists, playing nearly 47 minutes. But yeah, let’s give it Iguodala…

So far, both players have each played in nine Finals series. LeBron James has recorded seven 40 point games in the Finals, good enough for second all-time. Who is first? Jerry West, with ten 40 point performances. Both players also have one 50 point game on their Finals resume, which only four other players can claim to have accomplished. So, I think it’s safe to say that, even though both players have lost more Finals series than they’ve won, it’s through no fault of their own. Win or lose, both performed brilliantly when their team needed them most.

Two Parts Michael Jordan: I’m not comparing West entirely to him, but the part of his game that reminds me of MJ is how he was equally as skilled defensively as he was offensively. On offense, Jerry was known as a shooter, but he wasn’t the type to sit and wait for someone to set him up for a shot. Like Michael, he was constantly using his dribble to probe the defense, setting up either himself or a teammate for an open look. As the video states below, there is no documented footage of Jerry West shooting off-ball, so we have to assume that he was primarily an off-the-bounce, isolation shooter:

Comparing any player to Michael Jordan is quite the claim (Please recognize this, LeBron fans), but West easily provides the criteria. One of Jerry’s nicknames was Mr. Clutch, and with good reason. Only Jerry West and Michael Jordan have ever averaged over 40 PPG for the entirety of a playoff run. Take into consideration that Michael did this in a mere three game sample size (or one playoff series), and that West accomplished his feat over the course of eleven games (up to and including a 33.8 PPG NBA Finals), and it becomes even more impressive (The top seeded team in each conference would receive a first round Bye during the 1964-65 post-season. So, West’s average is technically based on only two series, but eleven games is still eleven games).

West was also considered one of the great defenders of the early NBA. How good was he? There are (admittedly very vague) reports that Jerry West recorded an unofficial quadruple-double. It’s unofficial because, sadly, the NBA didn’t keep track of steals or blocks until Jerry’s 14th and final season. And yet, in this lone season in which the NBA finally came to their senses, he was still able to record an average of 2.6 steals and 0.7 blocks. As a guard on his last legs! Comparably, Michael Jordan averaged 1.7 SPG and 0.5 BPG in his final season with Chicago, as well as 2.3 SPG and 0.8 BPG for his career as a Bull (13 seasons). One can only imagine the defensive numbers West unofficially recorded in his prime, since he was still able to achieve such numbers at a heightened age.

One Part Steph Curry: Jerry West was widely regarded by many as the greatest shooter who ever lived. That claim hasn’t aged very well. Now, there are so many other shooters that come to mind before we even begin to think about West: Steph Curry, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, even hacks (by comparison) like Steve Kerr and Kyle Korver. And the reason why we do this is because Jerry West played long before the introduction of the three point line. I described how this effectively marginalized his accomplishments, in a post I wrote in regards to who the G.O.A.T. truly is:

Maybe one day the future NBA adds a 10-point shot, and suddenly the kids are all proclaiming What’s-His-Face as the greatest shooter of all time. You furiously try to explain how great of a shooter Steph Curry was, and how “If only there was a 10-point shot back when he played, he would have been the king of that shot. It would have been like shooting free-throws for him”. But, thanks to the 10-point shot, even mediocre shooters in the future NBA have passed him on all-time scorers list, so Steph’s name and abilities are all but forgotten. Who just shoots 3-point shots now anyways? Now you understand the pain of a Jerry West fan, who watched their “greatest shooter ever” play before the addition of the 3-point line.

Need further evidence of how quickly we forget the greatness of a player? Think about Curry’s most famous shot so far in his career, since he is by far the greatest shooter who’s ever lived. Do you have it all loaded up in your mind? Let me guess which shot you’re thinking of… You’re thinking of that game-winner he hit against the OKC Thunder a few seasons ago, aren’t you? Of course you are, we all lost our minds when we saw that shot go in. He was so far away and we all had this sinking feeling it was going to go in because he was that freaking good. Now, think about the first shot that pops into your head when you hear the name Jerry West. Ready? Let me guess again… You’re thinking of that buzzer-beater he hit in the 1970 NBA Finals to tie the game up against the New York Knicks, correct? Damn, I’m good at this game!

I’m going to take you back to that moment, and I’m going to do it without even beginning to describe the background and scenarios surrounding Jerry’s shot (Mainly, because even my old man was merely a sophomore in high school at this time). Instead, I’ll take us all back to Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals!

OK, now, imagine the Warriors are actually down one with George Hill at the line and 4.7 seconds to go, but instead of J.R. Smith doing J.R. Smith things, Hill makes both free throws to put the Cavaliers up three, and the Warriors are out of timeouts.

“With no timeouts, the Warriors will have to travel the length of the court and send the game to overtime” Reminds NBA Finals color commentator Mark Jackson.

“Durant in-bounds to Curry” Describes Mike Breen.

The Cavs opt to instead foul the ball handler, in a clever attempt to force the Dubs to defeat them from the free-throw line; However, Curry quickly reads the defense’s intentions, and before one of the Cavaliers guards can get close enough to foul him, he lets fly a Hail Mary from around the three point line on the opposite end of the court.

“Curry, to tie the game!…”

Curry’s form, even for such a desperation heave, looks perfect. The ball’s trajectory and backspin also look perfect. The NBA world watches and holds their collective breaths as the ball travels quickly through the air towards the hoop, gently grazes the left iron, and splashes through the net.

“BANG!” Exclaims Breen.

Oracle erupts. The Warriors players are all wearing huge, lucky-dog grins, unable to contain their professionalism. The dejected Cavaliers players walk back to their bench like robots to game plan for the overtime period. Mike Breen gets a new #1 “BANG!” moment. And Steph Curry continues to add to his resume as the greatest shooter who ever lived.

Because there’d simply be no argument against Curry after that shot went in, would there?

Trust me, just give it some time.

All stats were found, as always, on www.basketball-reference.com. This post was not written with the intent to shit on the current players of today (Although, this era is in some ways starting to replicate the fast-paced but forgettable 1970’s). It was simply the first of a not yet determined number of reminders I will be writing to pass the time between now and NBA preseason. Basketball (Post-Mikan) has always been a beautiful sport, and it truly bothers me to see others disrespect the older players (If you spend any time online viewing basketball posts, then you know exactly what I’m talking about). This is my attempt to allow us all to appreciate them. Follow me on Twitter, for more of my old man musings, as well as a few takes and predictions before the upcoming season.

How LeBron James Fits Within the Lakers Cosmos

Lakers fans are unsurprisingly split on their feelings regarding the team’s decision to sign the best player in the NBA. Here’s why every Lakers fan should be excited

I was born in 1984. The same year that Magic Johnson lost his first meeting with Larry Bird and the hated Boston Celtics, teaching a whole new generation of Lakers fans to hate the color green and Lucky Charms cereal. As a Lakers fan, I grew up watching a team with no stars. The year was 1993, two years after saying good-bye to Magic Johnson who retired in 1991, and the Lakers would draft Nick Van Exel with the 37th selection in the NBA draft. The team would later select Eddie Jones in the 1994 draft, complete a trade for Cedric Ceballos, and make the playoffs with one of the younger cores in the league at the time. It would take one more season before the Lakers signed superstar center Shaquille O’Neal to pair with the young but talented roster already in place, and trade for another young talent from the 1996 draft class in Kobe Bryant.

As a Lakers fan, I would go on to enjoy three straight NBA championships, and be reminded that this is what the Lakers did. They would draft well, they would make all of the right moves (GM Jerry West also traded away a few assets to clear up cap space and ensure O’Neal could be signed), and they won championships. Going back to the days of Magic Johnson, the trades for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the addition of James Worthy proved this was evident. Going back even further to the days of Jerry West, the trade for Wilt Chamberlain proved this was evident. Fans of other teams often mock Lakers fans for bringing up their team’s history, but when your history continues to repeat itself, it’s hard not to keep bringing it up to the uneducated masses.

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8 and 24: The Best of Both Worlds – Greatest Game (Part 5 of 5)

Which of Kobe Bryant’s games were truly his greatest? What exactly makes a game “great”, anyway? I answer both questions, and more, in my epic 5 part finale.

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This is the finale of my 5 part series, covering Kobe’s greatest games. If you missed any of the first 4 parts, click the Kobe tag (or right here) to catch up!

#8

When people think of Kobe wearing his #8 jersey, they think of either one of two Kobe’s: Kobe with the afro, playing together with Shaq winning championships, or Kobe with the tattoo, jacking up shots because he had no one else to pass to. And both versions of Kobe have equally great games that we all remember.

Afro Kobe’s finest moment was undoubtedly Continue reading “8 and 24: The Best of Both Worlds – Greatest Game (Part 5 of 5)”

8 and 24: The Best of Both Worlds – Worst Moment (Part 3 of 5)

What? I love Kobe as much as the next Laker fan, but let’s be honest, Kobe pissed us all off at least once. This category’s goal is to remind us of what we have chosen to forget from each jersey.

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This is part 3 of my 5 part series, covering Kobe’s worst moment in each jersey. If you missed Part 1 or 2, click the Kobe tag (or right here) to catch up!

#8

When people have a bone to pick regarding Kobe, it’s always about how selfish he was. In his #8 jersey, Kobe’s worst games were not when he was shooting 30 times a game. They were, oddly enough, when he chose to pass the ball instead. In 2003-04, Kobe had games during the season where Phil Jackson criticized him for ignoring his team and shooting at a higher than normal clip. He infamously responded by ignoring his team and not shooting for a whole half of basketball in a late season matchup against the Sacramento Kings. His lack of aggressiveness in this critical regular season game, which the Lakers lost in blowout fashion, nearly cost his team the Pacific division championship.

In 2005-06, he single-handedly dragged the Lakers to the 7th seed of the playoffs and to the brink of victory against the 2nd seeded Phoenix Suns with a 3-1 series lead. After dropping the next two games, Kobe “quit” on his team in Game 7, taking only 3 shots in the 2nd half. Again, by choosing to be passive and not the player that averaged over 35 PPG during the season, the Lakers exited the first round of the playoffs with a whimper, having been pummeled by 31.

Having said that, all of this is trumped by him snitching on Shaq in 2003.

Were we all just going to sit here and pretend that didn’t happen?

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8 and 24: The Best of Both Worlds – Greatest Buzzer Beater (Part 2 of 5)

Probably most important when discussing Kobe Bryant was his ability to snatch a victory away from the opponent. And it’s what made him unique from any other player in his era.

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This is part 2 of my 5 part series, covering Kobe’s greatest buzzer beater in each jersey. If you missed Part 1: Greatest Dunk last week, click here to read it. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @cleanupglass, so I can update you on my next post, and give you my quick takes throughout the NBA season.

#8

Kobe has accumulated a library of buzzer beaters, game winners, and lead changing shots over the course of his career. Even early in his career, wearing #8, it seems like when the lights were brightest, Kobe shined brighter. Ask the Suns, when Kobe hit the Game 2 game winner over Jason Kidd, to put the Lakers up 2-0 in the 2000 Western Conference Semi-finals. Or, even better, you could ask the Blazers, when Kobe hit not one, but two ridiculous 3-pointers to give the Lakers a regular season win, and the 2004 Pacific Division Championship. Two shots in one regular season game, what could be more clutch than that?

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8 and 24: The Best of Both Worlds – Greatest Dunk (Part 1 of 5)

Two retired jerseys for one player? It happened. Now that we’ve all come to terms with that, here is the first moment of five that defines the player in each number.

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Kobe Bryant has not one, but two jerseys hanging from the rafters in Staples Center. By now, it’s too late for anyone to debate which jersey should be hanging if given the choice. And it’s even too late to debate which version of Kobe was best. You’ve read all of the stats, and they’re all very comparable: 16,866 points to 16,178, eight All-Stars to nine, three championships to two, zero MVP’s to one, zero Finals MVP’s to two… are you still there? I agree, it’s so boring. And the conclusion is always the same: #24 trumps #8. Yawn…

Allow me to unveil my arguments for 8 AND 24. As I stated earlier, there’s no point in arguing which number he was best in, as both jerseys proudly hang high in the stands (that is, until the Clippers play a home game. And since they can’t hide the shame they feel for their futility as a franchise, they’ll hide the Lakers successes). No matter what I say, nobody is going to climb back up there to take a jersey down because I happen to be right again. What my argument will decide is what should (not do, should) we remember most when we look up at those retired jerseys. From his Greatest Regular Season, to his Greatest Dunk, and even his Worst Moment, I guarantee nobody has a breakdown like this one.

Before I begin, I’d like to note that all stats in each part of this series were found, as always, at www.basketball-reference.com, unless sited otherwise.

Now, to begin the epic five part series (one for each ring), I present to you, my argument for:

Greatest Dunk

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D’Angelo vs. Lonzo: Past vs. Present

D’Angelo vs. Lonzo was what everyone wanted to see. A quick look at the stats and the conclusion is D’Angelo Russell got the better of his replacement in Lonzo Ball. Not so fast…

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The date is October 31st, 2017. The Lakers have just defeated the Detroit Pistons 113-93. Lonzo Ball finishes with a stat line of 13 points, 3 assists, and 6 rebounds, hardly Rookie of the Year award worthy stats for the 2nd pick in the 2017 NBA draft. But Lonzo is all that anyone is talking about right now, so NBA TV elects to interview him after the game. Chris Webber asks the first question, where Lonzo is asked to elaborate on how great it is to have fulfilled his dream of playing basketball in the NBA. Isiah Thomas asks the next question, and while I’m paraphrasing the interview, Zeke acknowledges that many players in the league are so focused on their stats. Lonzo appears very comfortable not filling up the box score, so long as his team wins the game. Lonzo agrees, stating his father told him as a point guard, all that matters are wins and losses.

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