Why Did Jerry West Leave the Lakers? Inside Their Rift

"One disappointing thing [about my career] is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible."

Sarah Kester - Author

Jun. 13 2024, Published 5:43 p.m. ET

Former professional basketball player Jerry West died at age 86 on June 12, 2024. The athlete left behind a legendary career in the NBA. For eight decades, he earned several championship titles, served as general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers during the iconic Showtime era, and was even the inspiration for the NBA’s logo.

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Throughout his career, he spent the most time with the Lakers — as a player, coach, and general manager. But when he abruptly left the team he had brought to victory in 2002, fans wondered, why did Jerry West leave the Lakers? Here’s what we know.

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Jerry’s career with the Lakers began in the '60s.

After he led the U.S. Olympic Team to a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rome, he was drafted to the now-defunct Minneapolis Lakers (they later changed to the Los Angeles Lakers). Although the team would go on to lose most of their championship games, Jerry’s skills were so impressive that he was named “Finals MVP.” He was also nicknamed Mr. Clutch for making pivotal moves during important games.

It would take a decade for Jerry to finally win a championship, but he didn’t lose hope or heart.

This happened against the Knicks after they lost the first Game 1 but then went on to win the next four straight games. Throughout his 14-year basketball career, Jerry helped bring the team to nine NBA finals.

After retiring from basketball in 1974, the then 36-year-old was eager to get back. In 1976, he became the Lakers’ head coach. Eventually, he helped bring the team to overall greatness during the '80s when he became general manager.

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Jerry has been credited for assembling the dream team that would dominate the court. For example, he added Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent and traded center Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant. This set the stage for them to win three straight championships from 2000 to 2002.

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Why did Jerry West leave the Lakers?

Jerry left the Lakers in 2002 to join the Memphis Grizzlies. This came as a surprise, considering his successful run with the franchise. At the time, it was believed that he wanted a new challenge, and building a new team from scratch would provide him with that. But the Lakers must’ve been upset by this, as they reportedly refused to hire him back with the team in 2017. There are also claims that they revoked his season tickets.

Jerry went on to share the lack of respect he felt from the team. “One disappointing thing [about my career] is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible,” Jerry said in an interview with The Athletic in 2022, per The New York Times.

“I still don’t know why. And at the end of the day, when I look back, I say, ‘Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared,” he concluded.

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