In April 2002 while I was president of business operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, owner Michael Heisley hired Jerry West as president of basketball operations. Less than two years later, the Grizzlies won a then-franchise record 50 games and clinched their first playoff berth. Memphis made the playoffs three consecutive seasons from 2003-06, before Jerry retired in 2007.
I hadn’t worked with Jerry before the Grizzlies, yet as a lifelong NBA fan growing up in New York with the Knicks, I was well versed and cursed by his eye-popping resume as a player and executive:
- 14 time NBA All-Star
- Six-time NBA Champion
- Executive of the Year in 1995 (Lakers) and in 2004 (Grizzlies)
- Named one of 50 Greatest Players of All Time
- Nicknames: The Logo; Mr. Clutch; Mr. Outside
- Only player in NBA history to win a finals MVP award for a losing team (1969)
On May 20, 2011, Warriors ownership hired West as an advisor and member of their executive board. Of all the quality acquisitions that the team has made, West's addition marked a significant statement: Championship planning is best done by those who have won championships.
We live in a sports world in which analytics and metrics play an increasing role in personnel selection. West has the X-ray vision to see beyond the measurables and into the hearts and souls of players and coaches. He seems to know what will work when others are still pouring over their computer screens and white boards. There are three examples that stand out in my mind as to why Jerry West is one of a kind:
Hiring Hubie Brown in Memphis
Sixteen years removed from his last NBA coaching job, Brown was hired by Jerry to coach the Grizzlies in 2002. An 0-8 start doomed coach Sidney Lowe. During Hubie’s introductory press conference, a media member kept pushing the point that Hubie was out of touch with the current NBA. Jerry told him that Hubie is a teacher, and all great teachers are relevant in any situation, with any group of players at any time.
The Grizzlies' choice of Brown was controversial at the time since he was the NBA’s oldest coach at 69. The team underwent a complete turnaround the next year, finishing 50-32 and making the postseason for the first time in team history. Brown was again named the NBA's Coach of the Year.
Jerry West and Hubie Brown 1, Media 0.
No questions about Monta Ellis out of high school
Monta was a star from Lanier High School in Jackson Mississippi, who as a junior scored 42 against national power Oak Hill and 72 points in a game as a senior. I remember an All-Star Game at the FedEx Forum when Monta and the USA squad took on an international team. Jerry immediately weighed in that Monta would turn into a major scorer when others had their questions. Monta bypassed a scholarship to Mississippi State to enter the NBA Draft in 2005 where he was the 40th player chosen by the Warriors.
I don’t know the insider discussions among the Warriors braintrust when the team was considering the Kevin Love trade for Klay Thompson, but I do know that Jerry was a Thompson fan from his college days. Look at how that insight is working out today.
I can attest, being around Jerry after losses with the Grizzlies could sometimes be worthy of hazard pay. His competitive fire is always burning. Having worked with a few icons during my career, it can be a bit difficult to separate the legend from the daily regiment of going to work and doing a job. That however, was never a problem during the time I worked with him in Memphis.
As the run for playoff positioning turns to full boil, it is a bit ironic that the Warriors and the Grizzlies have West’s basketball management DNA deeply ingrained in each team -- with very different styles of play.
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They could face off as the best of West -- in the West.