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West officially retires as Lakers’ executive

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LOS ANGELES — Jerry West retired Monday, ending a 40-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he was one of the NBA's greatest players and one of its most successful executives.

Known as "Mr. Clutch" as a player, West said he is now "unburdened of the pressures" of pro sports and happy to remain the team's biggest fan.

The 62-year-old West goes out a winner, with the Lakers having captured their first NBA title in 12 years with a victory over Indiana in June.

He will be succeeded as executive vice president of basketball operations by general manager Mitch Kupchak, who has worked with West in the front office the past 14 years. Kurt Rambis was promoted to assistant general manager.

West wrote a letter to Lakers fans that was attached to the news release issued by the Lakers.

"This is a difficult yet happy time for me personally as I retire my position with the Los Angeles Lakers and enter another period of my life, one that will allow me more freedom to enjoy my friends and particularly my family, unburdened with the pressures of the professional athletic business," he wrote.

West played for the Lakers for 14 seasons before retiring in 1974. He won one championship ring as a player and six more as an executive. After two years away from the game, he replaced Bill Sharman as coach of the Lakers before the 1976-77 season.

He spent three years as coach and three more as a special consultant with the team before being promoted to general manager before the 1982-83 season. Since then he has handled day-to-day operations and all player personnel decisions.

"Obviously, Jerry West is irreplaceable. What he's meant to the Lakers' franchise over the past 40 years is immeasurable," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said. "However, we don't want to mourn his leaving. Rather, we want to embrace his contributions to our history and recognize that is it part of what makes our franchise special."

Buss said he has the "utmost respect" for Kupchak.

"He is Jerry West's hand-picked successor and was trained by the best," the owner said. "Mitch has become and will continue to be, one of the best front office executives in the NBA in his own right."

Coach Phil Jackson reportedly will have a stronger say in roster decisions when Kupchak takes over.

West first spoke publicly about stress during a news conference late in the 1998 season. But then he signed a four-year contract extension worth a reported $3.5 million a year through the 2002-2003 campaign.

After the Lakers won their latest title, there were another round of reports that he would leave.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported he suffered from an irregular heartbeat caused by nervous tension, and because of the condition he did not attend any of the Lakers' playoff games against Portland or Indiana — the final two rounds.