Jerry West is leaving the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to join forces with the Clippers, and the natural question is why.
He provided an answer in an interview Thursday morning: the people.
The allure of working with Clippers owners Steve Ballmer and Dennis Wong, as well as coach Doc Rivers, is what pulled West back to Los Angeles.
Ballmer and Wong, friends since their college days at Harvard, were instrumental in pulling off the coup to get West.
Wong, who owns a small percentage of the Clippers, played a pivotal role. He once had a small ownership stake with the Warriors and saw how West worked wonders in his six years with that team, helping turn Golden State into today’s NBA power.
Wong persisted, and West finally relented, agreeing to become a consultant with the Clippers that will allow him to perform in an advisors role similar to what he had as an executive board member with the Warriors.
An agreement for him to work for the Clippers is in place, West said, but no contract had been signed
“For me, life is about passion. Life is about being around people you want to be around,” West said. “In my meeting with Steve and Dennis Wong, they were great.
West met with Ballmer, Wong and Rivers, who is also the team’s president of basketball operations, on May 30 at the Clippers’ practice facility in Playa Vista.
West said he came away impressed with their vision. He liked the front office that’s spearheaded by Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
“The connection I made with the Clippers, immediately I felt great after that meeting,” West said. “From Doc and Lawrence and the rest of the basketball people, I just felt great.”
The Clippers have reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons but have never advanced past the second round.
They are bracing for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to opt out of their contracts and become unrestricted free agents, and they know J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent who may become too expensive to keep.
Paul and Griffin could return to the Clippers for big contracts or they could bolt.
The Clippers don’t have any picks in the June 22 NBA draft, but they may look to buy a second-round pick.
West knows all that, but says he’s ready for the challenge.
“I want to see the Clippers get to where the owner and the people who work there internally want to go,” West said. “They have some really lofty goals over there, really lofty goals, and they thought I can help. I’m thrilled that I was wanted. I’m thrilled that they thought I could help and I’m hopeful that I can.”
But the Lakers hired Magic Johnson as their president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka as the general manager.
“People will ask questions about the Lakers,” West said. “I don’t really have anything to say about the Lakers. I don’t. I’m not going to say anything derogatory about the Lakers. This is not about me being in competition with the Lakers.
“It’s about me wanting to try to see if I can help make a difference with the people the Clippers have in place. I’m not going to be the out-front person.”
West recalled how he stood in the hallway at Oracle Arena in Oakland late Monday night after the Warriors defeated Cleveland to win the NBA championship, thinking this was his last go-around with Golden State.
“I will really miss that Warriors organization. I really will,” West said. “But honestly, there was nothing left for me to do. When I left there Monday night after they won the championship, it was probably the worst feeling I ever had in my life as a basketball person. I knew I wasn’t going to be part of that anymore.”
West’s son, Ryan, the Lakers’ director of player personnel, probably will join the Clippers in some capacity.
Jerry West earned credit for turning the Lakers into a dynasty that won five NBA championships in the 1980s and rebuilding them into a team that won successive titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
He spent five years with the Memphis Grizzlies and helped them become a playoff-caliber team. He saw the Warriors win two of the last three NBA championships and reach the Finals the last three years.
Now it’s on to a new test with the Clippers.
“To me, the things that have always excited me are the challenges,” West said. “I’m really goal-oriented. I have been all my life. This is another opportunity to compete in a completely different kind of way.”