Jerry West was one of the best players in NBA history - his image was used for the league logo, after all - and was probably the best general manager ever. But all that success doesn't mean West isn't open to new ideas.
Take his attitude toward minor league basketball. West, who was in Bismarck on Thursday representing the Golden State Warriors at the Dakota Wizards tipoff celebration, said he's had a change of heart about having an affiliate in the D-League.
"When it first started, I was sort of skeptical about it," West acknowledged. "I couldn't see the value of it at the beginning. I do see the value now. We've had a number of players who have come into the (NBA) and been productive and played a few years.
"The players that haven't had a chance to develop, maybe they're changing positions, maybe they start playing late. We've had numerous coaches who've been very successful in the NBA who started in (the minor leagues)."
West has worked with two coaches with local ties who got their starts in the minor leagues - Williston's Phil Jackson and former Wizards coach Dave Joerger.
Jackson coached in the CBA before going on to win six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and five more with the Los Angeles Lakers. The first with the Lakers came with West as general manager.
"He's had a remarkable career, and again, he started in (the minor leagues)," West said. "I think it's testimony (to the minors) that he's the coach that has won more championships than anyone. ... It's a tremendous opportunity for a young coach to prove himself, and I think everyone knows what he's accomplished."
Joerger, who led the Wizards to four championships in five seasons as head coach, was hired as an assistant by the Memphis Grizzlies when West was their general manager. Though he didn't work much with Joerger, West said he was impressed with what he saw.
"A very hard-working kid, very bright," West said. "Obviously he's a basketball junkie, which most of these young kids are. I think being in different places, like here, give him a better background.
"... It would not shock me if he would be a head coach in the NBA one day."
Approximately 600 people attended the dinner and celebration for season-ticket holders and sponsors. The Warriors sent most of their top brass, including owner Joe Lacob, to Bismarck for the event.
But the top draw was West, a Hall of Famer and an all-star in all 14 of his seasons. As a player, he won one NBA championship and played in nine finals. As a GM he built two dynasties with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning four more rings.
He joined the Warriors this May as a member of Golden State's executive board.
"I didn't want to take any more jobs," West said. "I've been through the stress and pressure of that - an enormous amount of pressure. They had a position in mind, I guess they thought about, where I'd be an advisor on the board. I expect it will be more that."
A native of West Virginia, West is making his first trip to North Dakota. He said he's seen some things that remind of his home state, where he still lives three months a year.
"The folks (in West Virginia) love the outdoors, love hunting and fishing," West said. "I grew up doing that. I think the other thing that I feel in common is how nice the people are."
West said he thinks the Warriors' purchase of the Wizards can only help the parent club.
"I'm hopeful that this will be a great situation for the Warriors, maybe not only produce a future coach, but more importantly, produce players," West said. "I think when you have one ownership you can do that, and one voice. That's what the Warriors will provide."
Jerry West on ...
PLAYING vs. MANAGING: "Frankly, they were both hell," West said with a laugh. "It's much easier to be a player, because you're really responsible for caring for yourself. All they ask you to do is go play as a team, and more importantly, compete every night. If you watch after yourself, if you take care of yourself and play at a certain level, it's very rewarding. The frustrating part in team sports, as compared to individual sports, is sometimes you can play your very best and it's not enough to accomplish what every player wants to accomplish - that's to win a championship.
"I think the pressure really falls on the executive, in the sense that we've had great teams when we were in Los Angeles, and we had a lot of championship teams, a lot of teams in the NBA finals. That creates enormous pressure, because you can't do anything once the ball is tossed up. ... The league is about players. Coaches are very, very important, but if you don't have the right players, you cannot win. I don't care who the coach is."
THE BEST PLAYER EVER: "I believe Michael Jordan was. I say that grudgingly, because we've had some incredible Lakers players. But I thought he was the best defensive player in the league, and I also felt obviously he was the best offensive player. His abilities to do things at a very high plane - and do them every night - were absolutely remarkable."
THE BEST HE PLAYED AGAINST: "If somebody asks me that question, I always say the player that I played against. Not my team, but that I personally played against, Oscar Robertson was the best player.
"I see a lot about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, their rivalry - well they didn't even guard each other, OK? I think it would have been a lot more interesting if they were guarding each other, because I think it adds suspense and highlight to two tremendous players in their own right. I like matchups against really great players."