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As Expected, West Retires

From Wilt to Showtime to Shaq, Jerry West was part of it all during his 40 years with the Lakers.

On Monday, he decided the time was right to leave basketball behind.

West, who couldn't even watch in June as Los Angeles won its first championship in 12 years, retired Monday to end four decades with the franchise as one of the NBA's greatest players and top executives.

"The average person wouldn't understand the pressure and stress that I've felt in my life," West said in an interview with Dunk.Net released shortly after he announced his retirement.

"I need to get off this merry-go-round for a while," he said. "It's a sad and happy time in my life. I don't know anything else but the Lakers. This has certainly been more than a job for me as a player. It has certainly meant more to me than just an occupation."

West, 62, will be succeeded as executive vice president of basketball operations by general manager Mitch Kupchak, who has worked with West in the front office the past 14 years.

Kurt Rambis, interim coach for the Lakers for most of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, was promoted to assistant general manager.

Coach Phil Jackson, who signed a five-year contract in June 1999, reportedly will have a stronger say in roster decisions when Kupchak takes over.

The Hall of Famer joined the Lakers in 1960 as a first-round draft choice from West Virginia, and was acknowledged to be one of the NBA's finest players, retiring in 1974 with a 25.0 points per game average currently fifth-highest in league history.

He was held in such high regard by the NBA that he was used as the silhouette for the league's logo, and was honored as one of the league's 50 greatest players in 1997.

West won one championship as a player, in 1972, and six more as an executive five in the 1980s.

Kupchak planned to hold a news conference Monday at the team's El Segundo headquarters that West wasn't expected to attend.

There have been reports that West wasn't well physically, but when asked about his health, he replied, "I feel absolutely fantastic."

However, he also said: "I know that my doctor is not disappointed that this is something that might be good for me, to just walk away from it for a while. I do have this addiction to this team, and addictions are hard to get over, as a lot of people are aware of."

He also said for the first time in a long time, he felt "pretty calm."

"I have a relatively young family, I think you need a father in the house and that's the most important thing in my life right now," he said.

However, West said he didn't want to leave the door open to a possible return, and said working for another organization would be most difficult.

As far as reports he might someday work for the Clippers, he said, "That would not happen, you can rest assured of that."

West goes out winner, thanks to the Lakers' victory over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. West opted not to attend any of the games against the Pacers because, "I couldn't stand to watch them."

After retiring as a player, he spent the next two years away from the game before replacing Bill Sharman as coach of the Lakers before the 1976-77 season.

He spent three years as coach and three more as a special consultant with the team before being promoted to general manager before the 1982-83 season. Since then he has handled day-to-day operations and all player personnel decisions.

"Obviously, Jerry West is irreplaceable. What he's meant to the Lakers' franchise over the past 40 years is immeasurable," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said.

West first spoke publicly about stress late in the 1998 season. But the following September, he signed a four-year contract extension worth a reported $3.5 million a year through the 2002-03 campaign.

After the Lakers won their latest title, there were another round of reports that he would leave.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported he had an irregular heartbeat caused by nervous tension, and because of the condition he did not attend any of the Lakers' playoff games in the final two rounds against Portland or Indiana.

West reportedly learned the outcome of the sixth and final game against Indiana while driving in his car and getting a call from a friend.

His title changed in 1995 from general manager to executive vice president for basketball operations.

In an open letter to fans West said of the Lakers, "I will remain their biggest fan."

West, a member of the 1960 gold medal U.S. Olympic team, helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals nine times. A 14-time All-Star, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. The Lakers retired his No. 44 jersey four years later.

As an executive, West completed many major deals, among them the acquisition of Kobe Bryant in a trade for Vlade Divac shortly after the 1996 NBA draft and the signing of free agent Shaquille O'Neal that same summer.

©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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