It definitely isn't what Jamaal Wilkes wants to be remembered for, but you usually don't get to choose your own legacy some 27 years after playing your final NBA game. And for a couple of generations, now, Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes has been known as the go-to tale that tells any up and comer that if he or she practices something enough, they will become proficient in it. Good at it. Great at it. Hall of Fame-worthy, even, like Wilkes became after a career filled with an unorthodox shooting style and championships upon championships.
Wilkes will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, and considering his all-world work both in college (two NCAA titles with UCLA, which holds significant sway in Springfield) and the pros, it's surprising that it has taken him over two decades following the establishment of his eligibility to get the call. Better late than never, we suppose; which also goes for his upcoming number retirement ceremony with the Los Angeles Lakers. On Dec. 28, Wilkes will see his number 52 hung in the rafters at Staples Center.
That, as well, seems long overdue. Because before James Worthy snuck into Los Angeles after a shrewd bit of dealing by the Laker front office, Wilkes was Los Angeles' championship-worthy inside/outside scorer. Playing nearly every game for the team from 1978 to 1984, Wilkes consistently shot well over 50 percent from the floor while averaging around 20 points per game and turning the ball over seemingly only on nights that Jack Nicholson couldn't make it to the Fabulous Forum. A remarkable 2.2 turnovers for every 36 minutes of play for Wilkes, incredible numbers considering Los Angeles' lights-out pace, including three seasons of single-digit turnover rate (the percentage of possessions used that turn into a miscue) during his Laker heyday
Par for the course for the four-time NBA champion, who won his first title as a rookie averaging 14 points and eight rebounds in only 30 minutes a night for the Golden State Warriors. Wilkes' finest Laker moment is typically his most overlooked, a 37-point and 10-rebound effort to help the Lakers clinch the 1980 title with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar not with the team following a nasty ankle sprain. The performance happened to come on the same night as Magic Johnson's legendary 42-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist turn; though Magic is quick to credit Wilkes' play in that game at every given opportunity.
Here are Silk's highlights from that contest:
And, yes, most of the work was done with that jumper. An overhead flinger that earned him the overwhelming majority of those 20 points per game, and a 76 percent career mark (absolutely fine for a hybrid forward) from the free throw line.
Watch it in all its glory:
Now listen as Red Auerbach tells you what to do, now that you've seen it:
Even if scores of California youth aren't popping around gymnasiums attempting Wilkes' signature fling, the legacy stands. The shot wasn't the worst breach of basketball fundamentals that the game has ever seen, but it wasn't far off … and it didn't mean a damn thing.
The bread landed butter-side down, and yet the shot was his bread-and-butter play. Wilkes had his fair share of transition chippies to toss in while playing with Magic Johnson, but by and large the bulk of his scoring came on mid-range jump shots; and yet he still finished with a career shooting percentage of 49.9 percent. That figure, we figure, will be ceremoniously bumped up to an even 50 on Friday, when Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes takes to Springfield.
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