Phil Jackson recalls night he asked Jerry West to leave locker room
Phil Jackson and Jerry West did not have a strong relationship when the two were with the Lakers.
Speaking at the Alex Theatre in Glendale at his “Live Talks Los Angeles” event last week, Jackson gave his account of the time he asked West to leave the Lakers’ locker room.
Without saying which game (it’s believed to be during the Western Conference Finals against Portland Trail Blazers in 2000), Jackson felt his team needed a serious talk after a difficult night.
“The Lakers were really struggling, not enjoying playing together,” said Jackson. “The last five minutes of the game were arduous and painful — so I kicked everybody out of the locker room.
“Jerry and [then-assistant general manager] Mitch Kupchak would come into the locker room afterward ... but I wanted it to be just us,” continued Jackson. “So I asked everybody to leave and then I addressed the team and asked them what happened out there on the floor.”
The Lakers ultimately won the series in a memorable Game 7 comeback, leading to their first of three-straight titles.
“In the process, I know Jerry was hurt by me asking him to leave the room,” Jackson said. “It has always been what I’ve done any time it got intimate or personal, to ask people that were outside, trainers and ball boys in particular.”
West was no ball boy and certainly didn’t view himself as an outsider. After leading the Lakers to the 1971-72 title as a player and guiding the franchise through the “Showtime” era, West brought both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to the Lakers.
West moved on after the team’s title in 2000, eventually landing with the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s currently an executive with the Golden State Warriors.
“It didn’t feel very good when someone would walk right by me and not even acknowledge you’re there. But that’s Phil,” wrote West in his autobiography, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life. “Frankly you start to feel under-appreciated and undervalued. It was time for me to go, but it was best for the Lakers and best for me.”
According to Jackson, his relationship with West never developed because of logistics. At the time, the Lakers were practicing at Southwest College while awaiting their new facility in El Segundo.
Jackson didn’t have an office at the Forum and the team played games at the just-opened Staples Center.
“Jerry would come sometimes to the end of practice and we would exchange some words, and that was it,” said Jackson. "[It wasn’t] until the middle of February until we actually had a facility where we had offices and a space together, so we didn’t really form a relationship.”
From Jackson’s perspective, he and West got along professionally.
“We always had a relationship that was a good business relationship but we didn’t have a social relationship at all at the time,” he said.
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.