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Jerry West, One of Basketball’s Greatest Players, Dies at 86

In his first season as head coach, West led the Lakers to the N.B.A.’s best record, 53-29, with Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s most valuable player, but they lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, the Portland Trail Blazers, led by Bill Walton, who died last month. Two years later, the Los Angeles once again lost to the eventual champs, the Seattle SuperSonics.

West’s won-lost record over three seasons as coach was 145-101 — a creditable résumé, especially given that he’d had no previous coaching experience at any level. But it was not a rewarding experience.

Among other things, he had been through two troubling incidents. In one, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand when he punched the opposing center, Kent Benson of the Milwaukee Bucks, after Benson had elbowed him in the stomach. Several weeks later came one of the most shocking and upsetting episodes in league history: On Dec. 9, 1977, when an on-the-court melee broke out between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets, the Laker forward Kermit Washington delivered a punch to the head of the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich that nearly killed him and ended his career.

In a 2010 biography of West, Roland Lazenby wrote that “West is certain that talent supersedes coaching in the business of basketball,” and even though Cooke sold the team after the 1979 season and the new owner, Jerry Buss, wanted West to stay on, he didn’t care for being on the bench. West did, however, have an interest in player evaluation and in having an executive role on the team, and in 1982, following a season that had brought the Lakers, led by Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, their second championship in three years, Buss named him general manager.

West was an active team builder His draft picks included several players who became Laker stalwarts: James Worthy (No. 1 overall in 1982, ahead of Dominque Wilkins), A.C. Green in the first round in 1985, and, to replace Abdul-Jabbar, who retired after 20 years as the game’s dominant player, Vlade Divac in the first round in 1989.

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