Jerry West might be a storied basketball curmudgeon, but you wouldn't know it on this particular day of training camp. He's happy, ebullient even. The Warriors have been visited by YouTube sensation Brandon Armstrong, aka The NBA Impersonator, and The Logo can't get enough of the Internet famous. "My kids said, 'You've gotta watch this s---,'" West says of Armstrong's work. He beseeches Armstrong: "You've got to do something on Draymond Green, man!"
Fortunately, Armstrong, slightly stunned as West addresses him, already has his Green imitation queued and ready. We crowd around Armstrong's phone, and West laughs at what is, ultimately, a wild celebration of Draymond's wild celebrations. The 77-year-old NBA legend is just like us in a way: He enjoys a funny YouTube video when he's at work.
West is an executive board member for Golden State and unofficial consigliere on major basketball decisions. His most notable Warriors contribution was a steadfast opposition to trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, a move that Golden State is happy to have avoided. That's not where our conversation starts, though. We begin with how the Steve Kerr era got off the ground.
So what happened with Mark Jackson?
JW: Coaches who have been players in the league, they get so attuned to playing how they were successful, and who their coaches were. Mark was a real pick-and-roll guy and very, very good at it. Steve played for two championship coaches, and I think the coach obviously he has replicated is [Gregg] Popovich. He liked his style of play, even if he had great success in Chicago. Moving the ball, moving your body, all the little things you do to get defenses to make mistakes and to try to be able to counter. I think that's been his philosophy offensively.
I heard you were disappointed with the lack of ball movement before. There were rumors.
JW: Rumors are rumors. I would say that one thing that was going to be difficult for us was teams were really going to gang up on Steph [Curry] and Klay. Steve was a great hire by our owners with his emphasis on getting more people involved.
Do you think Steve's approach was informed by his having been a role player?
JW: Steve is very bright. I don't think it has anything to do with being a role player. He would have figured it out regardless. He knew what he wanted to do when he got here. And a big emphasis with our internal people, [general manager] Bob [Myers], [majority owner] Joe [Lacob], who essentially hired him. He wanted more ball movement, wanted more people involved, wants more people touching the ball. And I think that's what we saw.
What's your role these days?
JW: If there's things that I see that I think are pertinent to how Steve wants to play, more importantly to how he wants to try to build this team to be better, I give him my opinions about players. I talk about how the way we play can dictate a lot about the players we bring in here. Obviously we like versatile players, and we have a lot of them, and I think we have almost a perfect age for our team. How do we get better? I think by finding the kind of players who will fit within the system he's going to do and someone who's the same size. We can defensively cover a lot of ground with bigger people and not get hurt. A bunch of smaller guys switching, you can get hurt that way.
What's changed about the game since you played?
JW: I think the 3-point line has definitely changed the game. Also the league has changed in that the 3-point line has brought shooting back in the game and spread the court a little bit more. At one time we were asked to play your own man; you're responsible for your own man. And, if you were good enough and kind of a ball hawk, you helped everyone else. Now it's really much more of a team concept defensively than it was when we played. That would be the biggest difference.
Everyone plays differently, but they play similarly. A couple teams will grind the shot clock down. Most of the time coaches do that, it's usually a talent deficit. They can't compete against the better teams. I think the game is, we shoot the ball a lot. Steve allows our 3-point shooters to shoot, maybe 1-on-3, which, at a time, you would never think of doing.
My editor has said you shot off the dribble a bit like Thompson. Do you see any parallels?
JW: The difference in the way we play -- he's a very accomplished shooter, but he needs to get to the free throw line more. That's, to me, is one of the things I talk to him about, getting better footwork, so your feet are not all over the place. If you don't have good footwork, you're not going to get in there to do that. Then also to finish over people, how to get your body in position so people are not going to bother you. You're going to make them foul you. And he's got a lot of room to improve. And that's where he needs to get better, and he knows it. And he's a diligent worker.
Were you surprised he had a breakout year last season? I know you were a voice against trading him.
JW: Well that's neither here nor there. But was I surprised? No. Absolutely not. He's going to get better. He's going to get better than he is today.
And you knew with the increased ball movement that would benefit him?
JW: No one knew that but I just thought experience -- you learn from experience; you learn from playing against people. You learn from making a catalog in your head of players, how people play you, what you can do better. You see him: He'll get irritated and he'll slap the ball or something, shrug, because he knows he did the wrong thing. And that's how you know the player's going to get better. Because they're thinking the game, they're playing a game at a little bit different level.
You seem happy. Are you enjoying this right now?
JW: I enjoy winning, but more importantly I enjoy the people I'm around. The people here are just fabulous to be around, and I know some of these people here for a long time. I've known Bob for a long time. It's been a dramatic change internally. You can go to places and offices where it's real stiff and no fun. This is a fun place to work. They've done a great job with diversity in our front office. They've hired the best of the best. And it's produced results.
You talked about rumors earlier, I've heard this stuff with Mark Jackson and me. Mark Jackson is a friend of mine. I've known him a long time, OK. And Mark will grow from being here as a coach. He will get an opportunity somewhere else. He'll probably be a better coach going forward.
"I'm just ultracompetitive. I will be till they put me in the grave." Jerry West
Did you think your career was done after Memphis? Did you expect to still be around success?
JW: Well I met with Joe, and he was interested in having me here. And I told him that certain things were important to me. Told him I don't want to be a voice of the franchise. You've got Bob here who's going to be fantastic, and I said we've got a lot of young people. I've seen a lot in my life. I've seen a lot of winning. I've seen a lot of testing times. I think when you're tested, you really find out what you're made of, OK?
For me, I'm just ultracompetitive. I will be till they put me in the grave. That's what drives me. Joe and I had a couple of great conversations. I felt he sincerely wanted me, that he'd allow me to be a voice within our franchise, but only a voice and an honest voice. And the only thing I care about is winning. That's all.
If you don't want to win, you don't want to be around me.