Friday, December 28, 2012
LA Lakers retire Jamaal Wilkes' No. 52 jersey
LOS ANGELES -- Jamaal Wilkes spent most of his successful basketball career as a remarkable supporting player.
The Los Angeles Lakers felt it was time to put Silk under the spotlight.
Wilkes' jersey was retired by the Lakers on Friday night, putting the smooth scorer in company with the franchise's Hall of Fame stars on the walls high above Staples Center.
Wilkes was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year. The Lakers, who only retire Hall of Famers' jerseys, formally hung his No. 52 next to Magic Johnson's No. 32 during halftime of their game against Portland.
"I think it says a lot about the Laker tradition," Wilkes said. "They've had some awesome basketball players, and now I'm one of them. Being front and center, and now I look in the mirror, and I go, `Wow.' It's cool, and yet it's emotional for me."
Wilkes was visibly touched by the honor, choking up while thanking his fellow Lakers greats amid several big ovations from the sellout crowd. Jerry West, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor all showed up to support their fellow Lakers honoree.
"I'm just enjoying it," Wilkes said. "I think months later, it will hit me, the true significance of it all."
The 59-year-old Wilkes is a California native who starred at UCLA before winning his first NBA championship as a rookie at Golden State. He was a key supporting player on three Lakers title-winning teams of the 1980s, with a jumper that was as unorthodox as it was reliable.
A supporting role never bothered the former Keith Wilkes, who won a title as an NBA rookie alongside Rick Barry and Clifford Ray at Golden State before adding three more rings in Los Angeles.
"I always prided myself on winning," Wilkes said. "I learned at a very young age, you can debate who the best player was or wasn't, but you can't debate who won or lost. So that's where my priorities went, and I played with some pretty good players along the way. I like to think that they made me better, and I made them better because I was able to adapt to different situations, and I was a good influence in the locker room."
He was also a superb scorer who won two NCAA titles at UCLA alongside Bill Walton before the Warriors drafted him in the first round and promptly won an unlikely NBA title with the slim, 6-foot-6 Wilkes as their power forward.
Wilkes' supporting character was epitomized in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA finals. He had 37 points and 10 rebounds in a spectacular game, but was thoroughly overshadowed by Johnson's 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in the title-clinching win.
Wilkes scored 14,664 points before retiring after a few games with the Clippers in 1985.
Wilkes still isn't done being honored. Santa Barbara High School will retire his jersey next month, and his face is a prominent feature at the freshly renovated Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus, where he's still a wildly popular figure even though both of his sons played college ball at California.
All of the attention is unusual to the soft-spoken star, but he's handling it just fine.
"I had kind of got used to being a private citizen, and now I'm front and center," Wilkes said. "I think the fact that it is a yearlong merry-go-round makes it more special for me."
The Lakers hadn't retired a number since Gail Goodrich's No. 25 went on the wall in 1996, but they aren't done for the season: Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34 goes up April 2.