OAKLAND, Calif. — Around him, on the floor of Oracle Arena, men from the team for which Jerry West now works as a consultant were shooting basketballs. And you knew West, who a few days ago turned 78, so wished he was one of them.
West, whose graceful dribble became the model for the NBA’s logo, is knowledgeable, opinionated, supportive, appreciative. In a way, he’s responsible for the success of the Warriors, who on Sunday night will attempt to build a 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
He strongly opposed a discussed trade of Klay Thompson to Minnesota for Kevin Love about two years ago. Thompson stayed and became, along with Stephen Curry, one of the “Splash Brothers,’’ the Warriors’ 1-2 scoring punch — or in this case, 2-1 — while Love went to the Cavaliers.
Saturday was a time for West to reflect and analyze. He spoke of his admiration for Muhammad Ali, who died on Friday. He spoke of the competitive fire. He spoke of athletic greatness.
“Muhammad Ali was very courageous,” West said. “He did what no other athlete would have done today, particularly a black athlete. He inspired people to overcome the inequities and inequalities in this world. He changed the perception of people. I loved that guy, I really did.”
West, not surprisingly, respects the Cavs’ frequently criticized main man, LeBron James, who, like West, has been on teams that lost in the Finals more than they won. James received votes as the Finals MVP a year ago, even though the Cavaliers were beaten by the Warriors. (Golden State’s Andre Iguodala took the honor.) In 1969, West, with the Los Angeles Lakers, became the only player on a losing team to be voted Finals MVP.
James has been in six Finals before this one — including four with Miami — and his teams are 2-4. Taking shots at that record, West said, “is the most ridiculous thing.’’
“If I were him, frankly, I’d want to strangle you guys,’’ he added. “He’s carried guys on his shoulders, now been to the Finals six straight times. How many times have they been the favorite? It’s grossly unfair to him.”
Curry has been the regular-season MVP in consecutive years, and West, the logo, refers to Curry as “the face of the NBA,” a label Curry does his best to reject.
“Here’s a guy,” West said, “who doesn’t play the game with force but with finesse. He’s great, and he’s going to get better.”
What makes Curry and Thompson effective, West explained, is their adaptability.
“When you see somebody every night,” West said about going up against NBA defenses, “you pretty much can’t run a play. People are waiting for you. So it has to be people who are creative passers. We have a bunch of creative passers here, a lot of versatile players.
“It’s obvious Steph and Klay are going to be on [the opponents’] hit list. Our bench did an incredible job [in Game 1], and the question is would they be able to do it the next game, or will Thompson and Curry be able to score more than 20 between them?”