Patrick Reusse
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The Minneapolis Lakers played what would be a final home game on March 24, 1960. It was the sixth game of the West Division finals against the heavily favored St. Louis Hawks, and the Lakers had a 3-2 lead in the series.

The Lakers were 25-50 in the regular season. They were rewarded with a playoff spot because the NBA was an eight-team league, split into East and West Divisions where three of four teams advanced.

The Cincinnati Royals were even worse, so into the playoffs the Lakers went, defeating Detroit 2-0 in a best-of-three series, then having the Hawks and Bob Pettit on the ropes.

Didn't work out that way. The Hawks ran the Lakers out of the Armory 117-96 in Game 6, in spite of 38 points from the great Elgin Baylor, and then won at St. Louis 97-86 overcoming another 33 from Elgin.

Lakers owner Bob Short spent that season greasing the skids for a move to Los Angeles. After the final game in St. Louis, he told Twin Cities reporters that he would request permission from the NBA to move to L.A.

On April 27, that permission was granted. The Minneapolis Tribune's coverage the next morning included a fan reaction piece with a quote from season-ticket holder K.N. Hefland.

"This is going to hurt us in our Major League Baseball campaign," Hefland told reporter Dwayne Netland. "It's too bad because the Lakers were just one player from being a great team."

Hefland was wrong about baseball; Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators here on Oct. 26, 1960. He was right about the great player, and the Lakers already had him.

On April 11, the Lakers took West Virginia guard Jerry West with the second pick of the draft, behind Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson to the Royals.

Many draft references will give the Los Angeles Lakers credit for that selection, but it was the Minneapolis Lakers that took West. And the way I see it, even if he didn't play here, the death this week at 86 of that remarkable basketball man closes the sad final chapter for our historic NBA team.

West played for 14 seasons. He averaged 46.3 points in a 1965 playoff series vs. Baltimore. He was the MVP of the 1969 Finals, averaging 38 points, but with Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers still lost to their nemesis, the Celtics.

After West was finished, he coached three years and then famously became Lakers GM in 1982. The zenith of his genius was when he saw Kobe Bryant as a 17-year-old, had to have him, and figured out a way to get him in the 1996 draft.

West went to the front office of Golden State after the Lakers, and for the past seven seasons, he had worked with the L.A. Clippers. It was there that Dan Fitzpatrick — 32 years old, from Edina and St. Thomas Academy, and a descendant of the basketball-loving Fitzpatricks from St. Paul — had a chance to observe West's skills up close and often.

Fitzpatrick went to UCLA out of high school, where he was able to sign on as a manager for coach Ben Howland's team. He landed a job with the Utah Jazz in 2014 as an assistant in the video department.

He moved to the Clippers starting in 2017, and is now the video coordinator for coach Tyronn Lue. West came to L.A.'s "other team" as an adviser at the same time.

"Jerry West was in his 80s, but he never stopped," Fitzpatrick said. "He watched every game, every night. He was in Vegas with us for summer league. He would watch draft workouts.

"He was passionate, fiery, and not interested in talking about the old days. He was interested in right now. He was sharp every day, and no one was more plugged in with NBA sources. He knew all the gossip, what was happening everywhere.

"And he came in dressed to the nines every morning, never looked like some of us might after a night game. Still played golf, too. He was the host at Riviera for the L.A. stop on the tour for years, and many of the golfers — Justin Thomas, Tiger [Woods], he knew those guys, was tight with them.

"He was a big guard, 6-foot-4, a great shooter, floor guy, but also a rebounder. He loved those guys, the Michael Cooper-types. When he worked out Kobe as a 17-year-old, he had Cooper come in and guard him.

"One great night, personally … one of our video guys had been at Dan Tana's, the famous old restaurant in West Hollywood, and saw a signed Jerry West jersey in there. He mentioned that, and Jerry said, 'You want to have dinner there?'

"So, he took all of us to Dan Tana's, and he did tell a few stories that night."

West was greatly besmirched in "Winning Time," the two-season HBO series on the rise of the Lakers dynasty. There was a cartoonish, over-the-top vibe to the show, and West came off as an always-brooding Lakers executive.

"Not close to the Jerry West I knew," Fitzpatrick said. "I watched very little, but I know he didn't like it. And if Jerry West didn't like it, I didn't like it."