Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes was so smooth sometimes that his great, legendary play went unnoticed in the golden 1980s years of his purple Lakers reign. I guess that's what happens when you play in front of a Hollywood celebrity crowd in the Forum of Los Angeles playing "Showtime" basketball with the greatest scorer of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the greatest passer of all time, a guy we all know simply as Magic.
The tricks of Silkes' trade were celebrated, but he's still remained an unsung and underrated player. A massive black and white portrait of him hangs in Tom Cruise's characters office in '90s hit rom-com Jerry Maguire, yet today his Wikipedia page isn't complete with a photo.
Legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn coined the nickname Silk along with his "slam dunk" and refrigerator cool phrases, yet some Lakers fans' minds will run cold when Wilkes' name is mentioned. This lack of knowledge needs to change. The light is on, the jello is cooling...but is anyone home?
Things really look to open up and change now, however. The corridors of the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame look to get even smoother this year as the squeaks of Silk Wilkes' sneaks look to step in and join last year's inductee Tex Winter and a whole host of other Lakers alumni in the prestigious class of basketball greats. You know John Wooden will be so proud but not surprised.
You'd think there would be no better honor, but in the very same "whirlwind" week (as Wilkes put it) the Lakers organization announced they'll be raising Jamaal Smooth's number 52 jersey to join Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy in the rafters. This jersey retirement announcement coming off the heels of the Hall induction couldn't be any better for Wilkes. Unless they made his honored jersey out of woven silk.
Weaving between defenders like he switched between the two and three spots, Wilkes was that smooth to his basketball touch. And that butter jumper was so money it afforded the Hearn nickname and the dubbing of being a "20-foot lay-up" (it was that "good", word to Marv Albert). From a big body and long arms, this shooting guard/small forward was a wingspan nightmare on defense. Just like Byron Scott and A.C. Green, Wilkes was the pop in dunks that finished off Magic Johnson's alleys, really putting the Show in Showtime.
It was wow time when Wilkes amazed everyone from the players to the fans with his on-court skill set. His versatile, tall, do-it-all presence really opened up the Forum floor for Pat Riley's slick-smooth Lakers. Laker nation, you thinking Lamar Odom? Plus, all the disappointment that came with his departure from LAX, Los Angeles? Well then just think what a shame it was that Wilkes has been under-appreciated and somewhat disregarded. That is, at least until now.
Wilkes won't have to reside in the unsung ranks of 1980s Lake Show greats that were just as much a part of the legendary legacy like Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo for much longer. This pillar really helped the Forum become a coliseum of gladiatorial basketball. Now his place in the Hall and the rafters is guaranteed by the Los Angeles Lakers and National Basketball Association powers that be—and will.
The Berkley-born California-bred, UCLA grad, really epitomized L.A. and the city of dreams. He was three times an All-Star, six times a champion (twice in the NCAA). And it's about time the town of stars and angels and the basketball world woke up and saw the light shining on this sleeper star that deserved more illumination. This ABA team president really is a Los Angeles star. This smooth operator is finally going to be heard like Sade. The polite, courteous, motivational speaker will finally have someone taking to the microphone for him. At almost 60 years old, the former Golden State Warriors Rookie of the Year's steady play has finally produced the individual rewards he finally deserves.
It's all silky smooth now.