SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Basketball icon Jerry West understands what it takes to win from both the front line and the front office.
Monday, from a front-row seat courtesy of Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson's golf cart, the seven-time NBA champion liked what he saw from his close friend's football team at training camp.
"I know Jerry wants to build a really great team here, and he feels like he's got a lot of components in place to make that happen," West said. "I think he expects them to have a really good year."
The 75-year old West, such a revered player in his day that the NBA logo is said to be a silhouette of him, met Panthers players and coaches during Monday's practice and as a group later in the day.
West, named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, currently serves as a consultant for the suddenly surging Golden State Warriors franchise. He previously won six NBA championships as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers and helped the Memphis Grizzlies earn the first three playoff berths in franchise history in the same capacity. West also won an NBA title as a player.
Even with all that success, he still recognizes that it never comes easy. As a player, he lost eight times in the NBA Finals.
"It takes a lot of luck. There is an element of luck," said West, the only player to ever win NBA Finals MVP while playing for the losing team. "(Mr. Richardson) has been very successful in his life, but I told him, 'Even though you've been in this business a long time, the most difficult thing you can try to do is win, regardless of the sport.'
"I know he's worked his fanny off to bring the best players, the best coaches here, and the best facilities. It's a tribute to him, his enormous desire to compete and excel."
West was asked about the differences between exceling in basketball and football.
"In basketball, one player can make an enormous difference in the success of a team, but even if you have that player you're going to have to have people around him that really complement his skills," West said. "Basketball is one of the prettiest sports to watch when you see good teams play. Everyone looks so coordinated.
"But in football, you're talking about two different teams basically, and coordination is really necessary. That's why you see coaches always trying to get everybody on the same page, and one mistake can cost you the game."
While West believes that one player has more power to tip the scales in his chosen sport, he believes Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is capable of making a similar impact on the football field.
"Obviously Mr. Richardson thinks the world of him, and obviously it's up to him at this point in his life to start to grow as a player and make everyone around him better," West said. "I think he's going to be the kind of player that everyone anticipates he's going to be and lead his team to a lot higher level."
NOTES: West said that the 6-5, 245-pound Newton probably isn't quite big enough to play power forward in the NBA as one media member suggested, but "there are some big guys out here that are pretty athletic." … Panthers tight ends Dominique Curry and Brandon Williams and wide receiver Dale Moss played college basketball. … Head coach Ron Rivera was asked to access the basketball talent on his roster. "We have a lot of guys who can play. And we have a lot of guys who think they can play. The worst one is probably Captain (Munnerlyn) – he probably thinks he can play better than anybody," Rivera said. "Our quarterback is one of those guys that can play. Charles Johnson has actually got a pretty good game. I know Ted Ginn can jump out the building, as can Brandon LaFell. We've got a number of great athletes, but thank goodness they're here playing football."