Q: On his jersey being retired:
Wilkes: I’ve known for about 10 months I’d have my jersey retired, but I don’t think the full magnitude will hit me until after it’s done. I’m looking forward to the ceremony. I’m going to have fun, but I think it’ll really hit me six months later.
Q: On Jamaal Wilkes as a player:
Worthy: 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. 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).
Q: On playing in Los Angeles and finding his niche:
Wilkes: Coming to the Lakers from Golden State, we played kind of like how they played now. It was wide open, there was no dominating center, so I got to handle the ball more and go in the line. Coming from UCLA, we had Bill Walton, who was a presence offensively and defensively. Playing with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), he’s a constant presence on offense inside, so you have to play around him. Defensively he’s a tremendous help back there. I would really credit coach Wooden at UCLA. He taught the game so simplistic that I was able to adapt and contribute in different styles and systems.
Q: On his jump shot:
Wilkes: It came from the playgrounds. As a boy, I was tall for my age – 11 or 12 – 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.
Q: On whether one year stood out in his career:
Wilkes: They were all very special. Anytime you are fortunate to be near a championship or a winning team, it’s very, very special.” So many great players don’t ever play on a championship team or a winning team. My sophomore ear at UCLA, winning the NCAA championship following Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, we really had serious questions whether we could fill those shoes. Then 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. 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.
Jamaal was a typical UCLA product: very fundamentally sound with no weaknesses in his game. He was a total, total team player. I've always felt he was underrated by a lot of people, and it's nice to see he's not underrated by the Lakers franchise. It's most deserving to have his jersey retired.
He was so smooth that he was nicknamed "Silk." Chick coined the term "20-foot layup" from his jump shot. And he had great hands. Just the softest hands... he could catch anything.
Jamaal is the absolute best person. If you had to write out a criteria for what you'd want in a teammate, he'd hit them all. Just a great guy. When you have qualities like that, they kind of rub off on the people around you. He was a leader in his own right. For a small forward, he was a definite leader.
One memory that stands out is when he had 37 points and 10 rebounds in that Finals Game 6 against Philly, and it was a "quiet" 37. He did nothing really flashy, but was just consistent throughout. Had it not been for Magic's (incredible) game, he'd have been the guy everyone was talking about.
You could tell during the high school level that Jamaal was going to be a dominant player, because I had the privilege of watching him at Santa Barbara High School. I was the city recreation director in the 1960's, coincidentally, and he used to come to our gym and play. He had great success in college as well at UCLA, and then of course in the NBA. He's a natural born basketball player, and if you wanted to create the perfect small forward with total skills, it was Jamaal Wilkes. During my tenure with him in the early 1980's, I always used to kid him a great deal, saying he'd be in the Hall of Fame, and that they should made a cast of his hands. They were as good as anybody's, ever. He could do whatever he wanted with the ball.
As a person, they don't come any better. That was reflected in his success as a player and as a teammate; he was the consummate professional, and as a coach, you couldn't ask for a better player or talent to have on your team.
I can remember when he played his first game against Dominique Wilkins, who came into the league as a top prospect, and let's just say Jamaal gave him a real lesson in how to play the position.