This is the fifth in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Continuing with number 12 – Jamaal Wilkes. We’ll take an in-depth look at his best game as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Being one of the lesser-known Laker greats, Wilkes is often left out of conversations discussing legends of the purple and gold. Even in spite of his number 52 jersey hanging in the rafters at the Staples Center.
Nicknamed Silk for his smooth style of play, Wilkes served 8 of his 12 seasons with the Lakers. Between 1977-85 he played 21,770 minutes in 648 games, scoring 11,804 points.
Wilkes won 3 rings with the Lakers in 1980, 1982, and 1985 (watching from the bench, nursing an injury, as the Lakers won their 3rd title of the decade), becoming a reliable 20 point a night player. He was also a perfect running mate for fellow Laker legends Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, playing the role of the third threat on offence perfectly in the pre-James Worthy era. Being undersized at 6’6″ and 190lbs, he was a nimble player with sneaky athleticism, capable of jumping out of the building.
Not many video records of Wilkes’ heroics live on the internet today, but one that does is his career-high in points which came against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals. More versed Laker fans will recognise this as the game in which Magic Johnson filled in at Center for the injured Abdul-Jabaar. Johnson’s 42 points and 15 rebounds overshadowed Wilkes’ 37 points and 10 rebounds, leaving it almost forgotten in Lakers history.
The Forgotten Legend’s Career High:
It’s the May 16, 1980, and its Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Lakers lead the series 3-2 against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers main concern was the sprained ankle sustained by Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in Game 5, rendering him unavailable. Magic Johnson would step into the void, famously proclaiming to his teammates “Never fear, E.J. is here”.
Wilkes’ first opportunity to score comes in the first play of the game, hitting the 24-foot jumper from the right elbow. Then immediately after he intercepted Lionel Hollins’ errant pass and set off on the fastbreak. Running 2 on 1, Wilkes gives the ball up to Norm Nixon who was running to the left of him. Julius Erving steps towards Nixon, trying to stop the advancing attack, but all this does is open a passing lane to Wilkes who finishes the simple layup at the rim. 4 early points for Silk.
Wilkes next to points would come as a result of his unorthodox free-throw technic, bringing the ball up the right side of his face then lobbing it toward the rim, he hits both. With the score at 16-15 in Philadelphia’s favour, Wilkes gets another layup as Michael Cooper fires a pass into the paint from the left-wing. Along with another couple at the free-throw line, his total now sits at 10 points.
Play goes on as Wilkes collects an assist and a rebound. Cooper then steals the ball, presenting Showtime with another opportunity to run. As Cooper runs up the right-wing its 5 on 1, he gives it up to Jim Chones who immediately tips it to Wilkes who is running right of the rim. Another simple layup for the UCLA product. Philadelphia leads 52-48 with Wilkes scoring 12 of the Los Angeles’ points so far.
The Lakers come out of half-time with the score tied at 60, they would then rattle off 14 unanswered points. With Wilkes scoring 16 of his 37 points in the next 12 minutes, the first of which coming as Johnson tips Hollins’ inbound pass. He runs hard up the center of the floor, it’s 3-on-2 as Wilkes peals toward the rim from the left-wing. Johnson dumps a no-look pass into the waiting arms of Wilkes as he goes up for yet another easy layup. His total now sitting at 14.
Another 2 points come off the rebound as Nixon drives hard into the centre of the paint but fails to finish over the top. Wilkes waiting underneath the cylinder tips the ball back up and in. The next coming off another pretty assist on the fastbreak from Magic Johnson as he throws a double-clutch pass to Wilkes waiting underneath the rim, finishing the layup under pressure from Erving. Wilkes now sitting at 18 points.
The next 2 points for Wilkes comes off a little 2 man game played with Nixon. He has the ball on the left wing with 10 seconds on the shot clock, giving it to Wilkes at the right elbow. Silk dribbles right to left driving towards the left low post passing it off to Nixon before he gets there. Nixon is running toward the left corner as he picks up the ball, cutting in towards the paint he is met with 3 76ers players.
Picking up the ball, he fires a pass out toward the 3-point line where Wilkes is waiting. As Erving rushes out to meet him he takes a single dribble to the left as the shot clock ticks down. Losing Erving he rises up and banks it in as the shot clock expires. Wilkes has reached the 20 point mark, the Lakers now lead 76-64.
The next opportunity for Wilkes comes off his own missed jumper, rising up and missing under heavy contention from Steve Mix in the right short corner. Bouncing off the back of the rim Chones pulls down the long rebound, giving it back to the cutting Wilkes as he attacks the paint. Exhibiting his acrobatic prowess, Wilkes finishes the double-clutch reverse layup under challenge from the 6-foot-11, Caldwell Jones. Now totaling 22 points.
Next Wilkes shows off his hook shot, working in the left low post. He takes one dribble, as he backs down Mix, he rises for the skyhook as he overpowers his opposition. Then Wilkes hits another jumper, putting the Lakers up by 12. He runs Mix through a screen getting himself open on the left short corner as he receives the pass from Cooper. Dropping it in like a penny in a fountain. Wilkes has now scored 26 of the Lakers’ 86 points, with Johnson having another 26.
1.20 left in the 3rd quarter, the Lakers lead 88-80 as Wilkes hits another jumper from the left-wing as he steps into the pass from Nixon. Putting the Lakers back up by 10. Next for Wilkes in this collage of shots is a running hook shot. Receiving the ball in the left corner, he puts it on the ground driving into the heart of the defence. Picking it up as he reaches the paint he takes 2 long strides and hooks it over the top of his onlookers, as if he is playing H-O-R-S-E against himself each shot has increased difficulty.
Wilkes now has 30 points going into the 4th quarter as the Lakers lead by 10. Wilkes checks out and by the time he is back in the 76ers have cut the lead to 4. It’s 105-101 as Wilkes attacks the rim once again, driving past some weak defence from Jones as he is too slow to stay with the Small Forward. Wilkes finishes the play as he is fouled, completing the traditional 30point play at the line. Up at 33 points for the game now.
The Lakers are up 113-103 with about 1.30 left in the game as Silk hits another jump shot, this time from the right-wing. The 76ers are in full-court press in an attempt to still salvage the game, doubling each player as they receive the ball the Lakers keep it moving as Cooper finds the wide-open Wilkes who hits the catch and shoot jumper. He now has 35.
Philadelphia continues to push, getting it up the floor quickly as Daryll Dawkins hits the turnaround jumper. 115-105 with 55 seconds left in the game, the 76ers press for a turnover of the inbound but the Lakers get it to Johnson who launches an extraordinary full court to the sprinting Wilkes all on his own in the frontcourt. He catches it, takes a couple dribbles and throws it down on the 76ers basket. Completing his 37 point career-high and sealing the wax on the Lakers’ 7th NBA Championship.
The son of a baptist minister, Jamaal Wilkes played for 3 years at UCLA, winning 2 championships. Before being drafted to the Golden State Warriors and winning another championship. He signed with the Lakers in 1977 and went on to earn 2 All-Star selections, a further 3 NBA Championships, as well as a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 2012 the Lakers made it so no other player would ever wear his number 52 jersey again, cementing his place as a true Laker great.
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