Tip-Off Timer: Lunch With 'The Logo'
Sometimes the basketball gods smile upon you even if you're not really part of the game. That's what happened to me on Nov. 12, 2004.
OK, so maybe it wasn't any kind of hoops deity that hooked me up; it was Raymond Ridder, the Warriors' director of public relations. Still, I remember to this day my brick of a cellphone ringing that cold morning in Memphis with Ridder at the other end.
"You want to go to lunch with Jerry West?" he asked. Ridder had worked for the Lakers and knew West from his days in L.A., so they were going to catch up. And I was coming along.
What I remember most about that lunch -- among Ridder, West, another colleague, myself and Gary Colson, West's assistant -- was that it was completely the opposite of what I thought it was going to be.
In the hours before the lunch I remember thinking how great it was going to be to pick West's brain and ask him about players, teams, his days running the Lakers and even some NBA history. Maybe get some insight into Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
It was nothing like that at all. I knew the lunch was likely going to be "off the record," but I didn't care. I was having lunch with "The Logo" and that's a personal and professional high point in any league.
If anything, West should write a post about his lunch with me that day. Why? Because I never really shut up. But it wasn't because of excitement or nerves or anything like that, although I was excited and a little nervous.
No, the reason I didn't stop talking during a lot of that lunch was because West never stopped asking me questions. All kinds of questions. They were mostly about the Warriors, the team I was most familiar with, but also about other teams and some other players who had come down the pike for the Warriors.
I remember West asking me specifically about the Warriors' decision to re-sign Adonal Foyle and trade Erick Dampier and to explain to him what I perceived to be the Warriors' long-term strategy.
I remember West asking me specifically about Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, two of the Warriors' young players at the time. He wanted to know what had gone on the year before when Nick Van Exel, whom West knew from the Lakers, had come through Golden State.
West asked me how I thought Warriors coach Mike Montgomery was doing in his first season, and he wanted me to try to shed a little more light on why Eric Musselman had been let go by Chris Mullin.
For most of the lunch, all West did was listen.
The guy was full of humility. He was straightforward and courteous. West had a way of making you feel like he was really hearing what you were saying. I have no idea whether he really was or not, but he seemed sincere. And that's one of the things you hear about West a lot, that he's honest, sincere and respectful to those around him. He was to me that day.
He seemed to be both a basketball icon and just a regular guy, a great parlay if you ask me.
Eventually, we did get to talking a little about Memphis and the Grizzlies, and what West conveyed was that he had been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and warmth in the community. West just couldn't believe how friendly and welcoming the city had been to him.
Shane Battier's name came up at the table, too, likely because he had always been a guy on the Warriors' radar. "I can't trade Shane," West said with a smile. "They'd kill me for that. He's just too important to our team, too important to our city."
Of course, West ended up trading Battier in 2006, but that was after the Grizzlies had established themselves as a consistent playoff team and were trying to break through to the next level.
West talked about needing a shooter, how tough it was to draw in Memphis and his respect for Hubie Brown, whom he had hired two years before.
Sure, I would have liked to learn more from West that day. But he was too busy asking me what I knew.
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