“It came from the playgrounds,” Wilkes said of his jump shot. “As a boy, I was tall for my age so I played with the older guys. I hadn’t graduated to a 10-foot hoop so I was still doing that sidewinder. To keep from getting my shot blocked all the time, I learned how to hold it back there till the last second, not even realizing I was doing anything different at all until I got to UCLA.”
Wilkes helped the Lakers win three titles during the Showtime era, teaming alongside franchise and NBA greats that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
The Golden State Warriors drafted the 6-foot-6 guard/forward No. 11 overall in 1974 out of UCLA. Wilkes made an immediate impact, winning Rookie of the Year, while also helping guide the Warriors to an NBA championship that same season.
“My rookie year in Golden State, there were a lot of critics, media types and basketball people thought I couldn’t survive the rigors of the NBA,” Wilkes said. “To not only survive it, play power forward, win Rookie of the Year and win a championship, it set the tone for the rest of my career.”
The Lakers signed Wilkes as a free agent in 1977, where he was a key part in three championship runs in 1980, 1982 and 1985. One of the more memorable performances of his career came in the Game 6 series-clinching win of the NBA Finals vs. the Philadelphia 76ers when Wilkes recorded 37 points and 10 rebounds.
"When you talk about how great Magic (Johnson) was in his rookie game in Philadelphia, you look at the stats and Jamaal (Wilkes) had a very impactful 37 points," former teammate James Worthy said. "He had the John Wooden science and theory about the game down. You never saw him play that much above the rim. He had speed, but that’s where I learned how to run the fast break. I had speed, but it wasn’t just about speed; it was about putting yourself in the right position, so I learned a lot from (him)."
A two-time All-American at UCLA, Wilkes teamed with another future NBA great in Bill Walton to lead the Bruins to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1972 and 1973 under Wooden, while also playing a part in the program’s 88-game win streak – a record that still stands to this day. In three years at UCLA, the Nor Cal native averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, was a two-time All-Pac-8 selection and three-time first-team Academic All-American.
For his career, Wilkes was a four-time NBA champion, a three-time All-Star and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice. He also ranks 10th all-time in Lakers franchise history in points (10,601) and ninth in steals (706). In September 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His No. 52 jersey will be the eighth jersey retired in Lakers franchise history.
“I’ve known for about 10 months I’d have my jersey retired,” Wilkes said. “But I don’t think the full magnitude will hit me until after it’s done.”