The rights of this post belong to the Los Angeles Lakers and was first published in the Lakers Insider February 2011
From Brentwood to Brentwood
By: Josh Tucker
Mitch Kupchak moves through the NBA like a phantom. In fact, little is known outside of LakerLand about the General Manager of one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. In 2000, the Lakers asked Mitch Kupchak to fill the shoes of “The Logo,” Jerry West, and he has done so with ease. Sure, he has had his fair share of criticism, but all Kupchak does is win.
He is humble and unassuming; in fact he even put a disclaimer on this interview. “I’m not a great interview so don’t get your hopes up,” Kupchak said. His seat during Lakers home games is not in camera view behind the Lakers bench or in an executive suite, but instead is out of the Hollywood spotlight.
Kupchak epitomizes an organization that, from the top down, trusts and believes in each other and themselves. “I have immense support from Jim Buss and Jerry Buss. I have always felt that they are looking out for me, and they have always felt I am looking out for them, in terms of what is best for the organization,” said Kupchak. “I think between the three of us, our decisions are based primarily on ‘What can we do to help this team win?'”
It requires collaboration, but even more so unity to sustain a winning franchise. “I never feel alone and always feel there are three of us on the same page making decisions.” Kupchak believes part of being able to maintain the Lakers status as a perennial powerhouse has been the Lakers’ “energy” in the head coach position. “We have an incredibly qualified coach that’s out front. It’s tough to question Phil Jackson.”
Kupchak is quick to assign praise to his predecessor Jerry West — who will be honored with a statue outside of STAPLES Center during All-Star weekend later this month.
“It was an incredible advantage and experience for me because I got to work with him for 14 years. I’m very thankful to have had him as my mentor and he’s been ridiculously supportive. To this day he continues to be a resource to the organization.”
“We’ve been pretty lucky to have had a guy like that at the helm, and then after he leaves to continue to be an elite team. If it didn’t turn out that way I’m sure I would have taken a lot of heat, because it is tough to follow a guy like that – like it is to follow a guy like Dean Smith or John Wooden.”
Sometimes success takes a little luck. “We’re qualified but you do need a little bit of gold dust now and then,” said Kupchak. While Kupchak implies a hint of purple and gold dust gilds STAPLES Center, he has become the Frank Gehry of basketball. Kupchak has meticulously engineered four NBA Championships since West handed over the reins after winning the 2000 NBA Championship. Sure, Jerry West left a solid foundation in the early 2000’s but Kupchak is responsible for assembling the pieces that have led to this current quest for a three-peat.
Kupchak’s tenure as Lakers General Manager is not without blemish and he is the first to remind you that it has not always been sunny in Los Angeles. “When you’re winning it’s tough to be overly criticized. We had a couple of rough years here. I wouldn’t exactly say I was under the radar, in fact, I was right out on the firing range,” said Kupchak.
“I know [Dr. Buss and Jim Buss] trust me and support me, but I would hope the public and the media have some more trust now than they did ten years ago. I’m no longer the new guy, and certainly winning and the performance of the organization has a lot to do with it.”
The opening chapter to Kupchak’s Lakers career began as a player almost 30 years ago in 1981. Despite a career plagued by injury, Kupchak was able to win three championships as a player – two as a Laker. Thirty years later, Kupchak still remains a true fan.
“There’s no feeling to match the feeling after Game 7 last year. To say that I sat there and enjoyed sitting and watching seven games of that series wouldn’t be true at all. I wish there was a way you could go hide somewhere and after ten days someone says, ‘Guess what? You won the thing,’ but you can’t, you have to sit there and watch.”
“Believe me, they’re painstaking games. Our fans in L.A. are on the edge of their seat, they’re going crazy, and so you can imagine what it feels like for someone who works for the organization.”
Kupchak was born in Brentwood, Long Island, New York and now resides in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. He admits that other than a name the two cities have essentially nothing in common. He finds humor in the fact that he graduated from Brentwood High School and eventually his two children will graduate from a very different Brentwood High School.
As our interview came to an end the legendary Bill Sharman – one of only three people to be inducted into the NBA Hall-of-Fame as a player and coach – walked into Kupchak’s office, which overlooks the Lakers practice court. The immortal Sharman walked over, shook my hand and asked, “Do you know this guy?” in reference to Kupchak. I know one thing for sure, whether it be Brentwood, NY or Brentwood, CA, Mitch Kupchak has definitely found a home.