By Broderick Turner | Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Jerry West is leaving the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to join forces with the Los Angeles Clippers, and the natural question is why.
He provided an answer in an interview Thursday morning: the people.
The allure of working with Clippers owners Steve Ballmer and Dennis Wong, as well as coach Doc Rivers, is what pulled West back to Los Angeles.
Ballmer and Wong, friends since their college days at Harvard, were instrumental in pulling off the coup to get West.
Wong, who owns a small percentage of the Clippers, played a pivotal role. He once had a small ownership stake with the Warriors and saw how West helped turn Golden State into an NBA power in his six seasons there.
Wong persisted, and West finally relented, agreeing to become a consultant with the Clippers that will allow him to perform in an adviser’s role similar to what he had as an executive board member with the Warriors.
An agreement for him to work for the Clippers is in place, West said, but no contract had been signed
“For me, life is about passion. Life is about being around people you want to be around,” West said. “In my meeting with Steve and Dennis Wong, they were great.
“I think [Ballmer] is going to be one of the great owners that this league has. For a man who has had enormous success, you would never know if you’re around him, unless you knew. He’s just down to earth.”
West met with Ballmer, Wong and Rivers, who is also the team’s president of basketball operations, on May 30 at the Clippers’ practice facility in Playa Vista.
West, 79, said he came away impressed with their vision. He liked the front office that’s spearheaded by Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
“The connection I made with the Clippers, immediately I felt great after that meeting,” West said. “From Doc and Lawrence and the rest of the basketball people, I just felt great.”
The Clippers have reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons but have never advanced past the second round.
They are bracing for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to opt out of their contracts and become unrestricted free agents, and they know J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent who may become too expensive to keep.
Paul and Griffin could return to the Clippers for big contracts or they could bolt.
The Clippers don’t have any picks in the draft next week, but they may look to buy a second-round pick.
West knows all that, but says he’s ready for the challenge.
“I want to see the Clippers get to where the owner and the people who work there internally want to go,” West said. “They have some really lofty goals over there, really lofty goals, and they thought I can help. I’m thrilled that I was wanted. I’m thrilled that they thought I could help and I’m hopeful that I can.”
West heard Lakers fans begging him to return to the franchise that he once turned into champions as one of the league’s premier executives.
But the Lakers hired Magic Johnson as their president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka as the general manager.
“People will ask questions about the Lakers,” West said. “I don’t really have anything to say about the Lakers. I don’t. I’m not going to say anything derogatory about the Lakers.”
West recalled how he stood in the hallway at Oracle Arena in Oakland late Monday night after the Warriors defeated Cleveland to win the NBA championship, thinking this was his last go-around with Golden State.
“I will really miss that Warriors organization. I really will,” West said. “But honestly, there was nothing left for me to do. When I left there Monday night after they won the championship, it was probably the worst feeling I ever had in my life as a basketball person. I knew I wasn’t going to be part of that anymore.”