JERRY WEST, LOU LAMORIELLO AND DANNY AINGE
I have long been a student of history because I find it interesting to see where things came from, how they got here, what changed along the way, and what, possibly will, or could be.
Similarly, I’m an unabashed fan of the “throwback.”
Antiques, architecture, apparel, memorabilia, people.
As a boy, I was inculcated with a fervent respect for my elders; they deserved to be respected — and maybe even revered — because they had been around.
There was a real badge of honor associated with that.
They had experienced life.
So they had earned their standing.
And if you were willing to listen, there was an awful lot you could learn.
I would “sit quiet,” as one of my grandmothers was wont to suggest, and try to absorb all I could.
I imagine that the young bucks in the field of executive professional sports management — as an example — might feel the same way, given the opportunity to learn from the successful, veteran, wily and grizzled leadership of their respective organizations.
And what about that leadership?
Why do some of these folks seem to stick around forever, even after they’ve scaled the highest peaks?
Is it for the love of what they do?
Or is it about a fear of change?
A fear of retirement?
Jerry West was incomparable as a player and is as an executive.
To this very day, he remains at it.
“Mr. Clutch,” a native of Cheylan, WV is 83 years old, and an executive board member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
He is the living, breathing embodiment of the Timex watch; never mind taking the lickin’…he just keeps on tickin’.
West’s playing career paled by comparison to no other, but his tenure as an executive — search ‘winning’ — has far eclipsed it.
One championship as a player (1972) and eight as an executive, including a two-time selection as NBA Executive of the Year (1995; 2004).
And in those years, neither the Los Angeles Lakers (’95) nor the Memphis Grizzlies (‘04), West’s employers at the time, were NBA champs.
As a Golden State Warriors executive board member from 2011–2017, West was widely credited for playing a crucial role in the success of the club’s dynasty (NBA titles in 2015 and 2017, and another in 2018, following his departure).
His Clippers, just last night (June 18), finished off the Utah Jazz, in the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals.
West is hot on the heels of yet another title as an executive.
“For me, life is about passion.
Life is about being around people you want to be around,” West said in a 2017 interview with the LA Times.
“In my meeting with [the Clippers’] Steve Ballmer and Dennis Wong, they were great. I think [Ballmer] is going to be one of the great owners that this league has.
“To me, the things that have always excited me are the challenges,” West has 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.”
In the interest of full disclosure, and with the understanding that we live in an imperfect world as human beings, on December 17, 2020 it was reported that West and the LA Clippers were under investigation by the NBA, following a lawsuit filed by John Wilkes against the Clippers, over the alleged recruitment of Kawhi Leonard to the team].
That compete-level quotient by the way — alive and kicking in the hearts and souls of septuagenarians and octogenarians alike — will prove to be a recurrent theme, a notion to which Lou Lamoriello, a relative kid at 78, would readily attest.
Lou Lamoriello is every bit the hockey legend and mastermind that West, “The Logo,” is, relative to the hardcourt.
At Providence College he was a bona fide player and an excellent coach, who became the school’s athletic director and the first commissioner of Hockey East.
In 1992 he received the Lester Patrick Trophy in recognition of his service to hockey in the United States; in 2009 he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category; and in 2012 he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
And Lou never played a single NHL game.
He coached a handful of NHL games (53) over a couple of seasons, sticking a finger in the dike, where and when necessary.
But his resume as an executive?
As they say on Federal Hill in the Providence capital of his native (Johnston) Rhode Island, fuggedaboutit!!!
Louis P. Lamoriello, today, is the president of hockey operations and general manager of the NHL’s New York Islanders.
He has been the general manager of both the New Jersey Devils (1987–2015) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (2015–2018).
His twenty-eight-year tenure with the Devils was epic.
Those years represented the third-longest stint by an NHL general manager with a single team in league history, following the reigns of Conn Smythe (Toronto) and Art Ross (Boston Bruins).
Under Lamoriello’s management, the Devils, who had been barely competitive during their first five years in New Jersey, became one of the most successful teams in the NHL.
Between 1988–2012 the Devils made the Stanley Cup playoffs every year but three; they qualified for five Stanley Cup Finals (1995; 2000; 2001; 2003; and 2012); and they won the Cup three times (1995; 2000; and 2003).
Lamoriello also served as general manager for Team USA in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, in which the US won the gold medal, as well as for the USA hockey contingent at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
On May 22, 2018 he was hired by the New York Islanders as their president of hockey operations, and two weeks later Lamoriello fired head coach Doug Weight and general manager Garth Snow, naming himself GM.
On June 21, he signed Barry Trotz as head coach; Trotz and his Washington Capitals had won the Stanley Cup, two weeks prior.
In this season’s Stanley Cup semifinals, the Isles are down 2–1 against the Lightning, and Lou Lamoriello — competitor that he is, at nearly eighty — relishes the moment.
Just as if it were fifty years ago.
Not so for Danny Ainge.
A youngster at 62, Ainge is among the state of Oregon’s top five greatest athletes ever.
With well-deserved nods to Ashton Eaton, Steve Prefontaine and Terry Baker, Ainge was a Merriwellian All-American 3-sport phenom at North Eugene HS.
He was a two-time All-State selection in both basketball and football and was one of the best baseball players in the country during the mid-late-seventies (1976-’77).
He was a High School First-Team All-American in all three sports, the only person ever to be so honored.
Ainge became the youngest player to hit a home run in Toronto Blue Jays franchise history — since surpassed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — and played three years of professional baseball before pursuing a career in the NBA.
The 31st overall selection in the 1981 NBA Draft, Ainge joined the Boston Celtics with whom he won NBA titles in 1984 and 1986.
He had a fourteen-year career as a player, dabbled in broadcasting — NBA on TNT — and coached the Phoenix Suns for three seasons (1996-’99) before joining the management of the Celtics in 2003.
He served as the organization’s president of basketball operations from 2008, when he was chosen as the NBA Executive of the Year, until his retirement in June of 2021.
Ainge stayed on the job for as long as he could.
Neither two heart attacks (2009; 2019) nor a dire need of fresh air, will preclude a return to the fray at some point, but for now he can rest on his executive laurels.
Ainge was quite good — remarkably adept really — for a very long time.
Unlike West and Lamoriello, he needs to step back now and take a break.
Not the end of the world.
After all, these three gentlemen — each with their own wealth of experience — are just like their forebears in the professional basketball and hockey executive arenas.
Auerbach, Holzman, Thorn, McCloskey, Popovich, Riley, Pat Williams, Glickman, Gottlieb, Ray Patterson, Colangelo, Don Nelson and Jack Ramsey in no particular order…
Or Glen Sather, David Poile, Keith Allen, Smythe, Ross, Craig Patrick, Selke, Bill Torrey, Sam Pollock, Ken Holland and Jimmy Devellano…
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in June 2021.]