It's not often you get a chance to talk with an icon. In this case, I mean that in the most literal sense. But Tuesday afternoon, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Lakers and NBA legend Jerry West in conjunction with 710 ESPN's Lunch with a Legend series.
We covered a lot of ground over the course of the interview. Some highlights:
On changes in the sport: "The players have rights, thanks to many of us older players because at one time, you felt like you were a slave. You had no rights, it was ridiculous. The playing conditions were terrible, the traveling conditions were terrible. It truly was kind of a stone age for basketball. I started to see a change in the late 60's. You saw better athletes coming into the league. But the biggest difference... was how competitive the league was. Today you have so many players who are part of teams that probably could not have made a bunch of teams (then). I've always felt that contraction would be good for the NBA. I know Commissioner Stern probably doesn't like it, but some of these small market teams just can't compete financially."
On the disappointment of championships lost: "When we didn't win, particularly in all the championships we lost, I felt like we let the whole city down. It almost drove me to distraction in the sense that I didn't want to play anymore. It was really painful... I've had two dubious distinctions in my life. I was the most valuable player in the NCAA final game on a losing team, and I was the most valuable players in an NBA Finals on a losing team. You would trade all of those if you could just win."
On Kobe Bryant: "I've watched him grow up (from) kind of an out-of-control young player who had this enormous skill and burning desire to excel to where he had to tone his game down a little bit. Now what you see is a very finished product, and still a relatively young man in terms of age. He's one of the great, great players I've ever seen, and more importantly he's one of the players I'd pay to see play... It's fun for me to watch him play, and know I was a small part of his life. He and I, we don't interact anymore but I do, from a distance, I admire him greatly."
On Pau Gasol: "He hasn't grown a bit as a player. He was that good in Memphis."
There's more in there, from the growth of the Lakers in Los Angeles to his involvement in the PGA's Northern Trust Open and the charity work that comes with it. West also comments about some of the great players he's played with, against, and worked with as a coach and executive.
He's truly a legendary figure, and it's hard to find many who speak with that level of candor.