Lakers unveil Jerry West statue

Updated: February 18, 2011, 4:15 AM ET
By Andy Kamenetzky | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West has long been immortalized as the NBA logo. On Thursday, permanence came in the form of a statue. The basketball icon was honored on a crisp evening with a bronze likeness at Staples Center, joining the likes of Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya and Wayne Gretzky.

West gingerly pulled a golden rope, lowering a black curtain to reveal a statue of himself dribbling. In form true to the characteristically spotlight-averse star, West admitted the ceremony was "awkward" for him. Most of the time onstage was spent whirling through a laundry list of thank-yous, particularly for his family, former teammates and even his competitors.

"When I look around, some of the people I've been around as athletes, some of the ones I've competed against, I really want to thank you for coming tonight," West said. "Frankly, it's more meaningful than perhaps this statue."

A 14-time All-Star who averaged 29.1 points a game in the postseason, West's No. 44 jersey already hangs in the Staples Center rafters.

[+] EnlargeJerry West
AP Photo/Jae C. HongLakers legend Jerry West, left, checks out the bronze statue unveiled in his honor Thursday outside Staples Center.

"To be honored by the people I admire most is just incredible. ... I played for the fans of L.A. and particularly my teammates," West said. "Every time I put on a Laker uniform, I was filled with a tremendous sense of pride."

The ceremony was hosted by local reporter Jim Hill, and West was joined on the dais by Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Pat Riley, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, owner Dr. Jerry Buss and NBA commissioner David Stern. Current players Pau Gasol and Shaquille O'Neal were in attendance, along with Bill Walton, Kurt Rambis, James Worthy, Norm Nixon, Tommy Hawkins, Mike Dunleavy Sr. and Jeannie Buss.

Ever the unsatisfied perfectionist, West also said he might have chosen to be pictured in the middle of his famously smooth jump shot, instead of the dribbling pose chosen for the statue.

West appeared genuinely touched by the tributes during emotional comments from his friends and colleagues, and Johnson couldn't have been more thrilled.

"Please enjoy this moment, because you deserve it," Johnson said, poking fun at his former boss' famed pessimism. "I know you thought that nobody was going to show up. People do love you. Enjoy this! Everything we did as a team, we did because of you."

A sizable contingent of Lakers fans gathered on the edge of the ceremony, chanting "Jerry! Jerry!" and straining for photographs of the statue, which is mounted on a large base with carvings listing West's accomplishments.

West's statue is the fifth placed in the plaza since Staples Center opened in 1999.

"I know I wouldn't be standing here today if he hadn't convinced Dr. Buss to give me an interim tryout of 14 games," said Riley, the Heat president who won four titles as Lakers coach.

Buss still has sharp memories of his first look at West as a West Virginia player in a tournament in Los Angeles 50 years ago.

"How many people have a statue made to honor them? One in a billion?" Buss asked. "Well, Jerry is certainly one of those."

Before the statue was unveiled, Lakers P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter narrated a video tribute to West's career. The film highlighted his time at the University of West Virginia, his part in the gold-winning 1960 Olympic team, his legendary playing career with the Lakers and his influence as the greatest general manager in franchise history.

Kobe Bryant couldn't attend the ceremony, but taped a video tribute honoring the man who famously traded for his draft rights as a 17-year-old high school student.

"Nobody deserves it more than you, man," Bryant said. Congratulations were also relayed by video from West's son Jonnie, who couldn't be there because, fittingly, he was playing basketball for West Virginia.

Stern, who referred to West by his fabled nickname "Mr. Clutch," summed up the opinion of the Lakers family and the entire Los Angeles basketball community with four simple words.

"Jerry, we love you."

Andy Kamenetzky co-hosts the Land O' Lakers blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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