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Tennis Briefing: What did the French Open mean for tennis? What will grass-court season hold?

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Tennis Briefing: What did the French Open mean for tennis? What will grass-court season hold?

Welcome back to the Monday Tennis Briefing, where The Athletic will explain the stories from the past week on-court.

This week, the French Open in Paris drew to a close, with the second Grand Slam of the season playing out at Roland Garros. Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz won the singles titles, in a fortnight of five-setters, Hawk-Eye drama, raucous crowds and much, much more.

For a special edition of the Tennis Briefing, the writers at The Athletic look back on the tournament, and ahead to the coming of grass-court season.

If you’d like to follow our fantastic tennis coverage, click here.


How many kinds of five-set thriller are there?

The 2024 French Open was a tournament for the five-set advocates and the sceptics.

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There was high drama in Carlos Alcaraz’s semi-final win over Jannik Sinner and his Sunday defeat of Alexander Zverev in the final, both of which went to five sets, and both of which were electric, jittery, at times uncomfortable matches, as that drama appeared to take over. Novak Djokovic’s gruelling, and ultimately hugely damaging, win over Francisco Cerundolo in the fourth round was less than sparkling on the quality index; ditto Zverev edging past Tallon Griekspoor in the third round.

The crucial and final moments were made even more dramatic by the spells when those matches were simmering, and the five-set format retains a uniqueness of tension and endurance that a three-set match arguably can’t. Sceptics would say that some of those matches were long on time and low on quality. Both things are true; it’s possible for there to be bad, indifferent and brilliant five-set matches.


Lorenzo Musetti strikes a backhand during his remarkable match with Djokovic (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

We saw all of the above at this French Open, including genuine thrillers like the late-night barnstormer on court 14 when Holger Rune edged past Flavio Cobolli in a final-set tiebreak, Djokovic and Lorenzo Musetti’s latest-ever finish at Roland Garros, and Dusan Lajovic and Roman Safiullin’s epic in the early rounds.

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Is Coco Gauff a multiple Grand Slam doubles champion in waiting?

It wasn’t the title Coco Gauff came to Paris for, but it was one she really wanted.

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Gauff didn’t even think she was going to be playing doubles here, because her usual partner at Grand Slams, Jessica Pegula, is still recovering from an injury. Then another American, Taylor Townsend got injured. That left Katerina Siniakova — who, along with Gauff, is one of the world’s top doubles players — without a partner.

Townsend gave Gauff’s phone number to Siniakova. There was a text, and two days before the tournament began, the French Open had a very formidable new doubles team: an elite singles player and an elite doubles one, with plenty of experience in the biggest events: Siniakova was a seven-time Grand Slam doubles champion even before this tournament, Gauff a two-time Grand Slam doubles semi-finalist.

The results were both surprising and predictable. Gauff and Siniakova basically winged their way to the title, like two great jazz musicians playing a series of gigs together after little to no practice, ending with a 7-6(5), 6-3 win over Jasmine Paolini and Sara Errani in the final.


Gauff and Siniakova had never played together before this year’s French Open (Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

It wasn’t flawless.

Siniakova pegged Gauff in the back of the head in one match. Sometimes they didn’t know which direction the other one was heading in. Giggling apologies between points were not infrequent. Talent is talent though, and Gauff’s 125mph serves also helped plenty.

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When it was over, Gauff said there was a larger lesson to cull from the experience. “I think it’s just one of those things that when you least expect it to happen, it happens,” she said.

“Same thing (with the) U.S. Open, when I won it (last September). I didn’t expect to win. I was having a really bad year. Then here, I didn’t even expect to play (doubles).”

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Can the wisdom of crowds prevail?

It already feels like it was about 10 years ago, but the first week of this French Open was dominated by stories of bad crowd behaviour. Raucous fans were making life hard for some of the players, and David Goffin reported he had been spat at by a supporter when the atmosphere was particularly feverish during his first-round win over home favourite Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard.

Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo announced a site-wide ban on drinking in the stands a couple of days later, in what straight away felt like a heavy-handed response.

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In her tournament review on Sunday, Maursemo accepted organisers may have jumped the gun, while also rejecting the idea that the ban contributed to the numerous empty seats seen on the main courts at Roland Garros.


Raucous crowds have brought passion to the tournament. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images)

“Honestly, in my opinion, the alcohol, maybe it wasn’t necessary, and I don’t think it was the reason why the stadium at some point was empty,” she said.

The lesson here is that tennis needs to take a step back and not try to stamp out all behaviour it finds a little too much. Something like the Goffin incident clearly oversteps the mark, but having passionate, engaged fans is hardly a bad thing.

There are plenty of tennis players who would love to have this kind of raucousness more often, with many tour events grappling with empty seats and a lack of atmosphere that is, in a wider sense, a far bigger problem for the sport.

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What will it take for the French Open to accept Hawk-Eye?

Apparently, the people who run the French Open needed yet another reminder:

High-speed cameras and the computer technology that allows them to make line calls with the tiniest margin for error are better than the human eye — and better for humans.

Little has moved the needle so far, but costing a finalist a Grand Slam title may make the FFT (France’s tennis federation, which organizes the French Open) reconsider staying loyal to umpires coming down from their chair to inspect ball marks on the red clay to estimate whether the edge of a tiny ball nicked or missed a painted line, with millions of dollars riding on the decision.

Last year, Wimbledon’s obstinance may very well have cost home favourite Andy Murray a chance to win his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. But that was in the second round.

On Sunday, in the fifth set of the men’s final, a similarly mistaken line call prevented Alexander Zverev from breaking Carlos Alcaraz’s serve and knotting the set at two games each. Everyone watching on television or with access to social media knew very quickly that Alcaraz double-faulted and that chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein should not have overruled the original line judge’s call.

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The crucial line call helped keep the momentum with Alcaraz in the final’s fifth set (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

Once again, the wider world had access to the correct information, but the people who really needed it, and should have been protected by it, did not.

“There’s a difference whether you’re down 3-1 in the fifth set or you’re back to two-all — that’s a deciding difference,” said Zverev, after he had learned that the final call had been wrong. “It’s frustrating in the end, but it is what it is. Umpires make mistakes. They’re also human, and that’s OK. But of course, in a situation like that, you wish there wouldn’t be mistakes.”

Pascal Maria, the assistant referee for the French Open, said earlier in the tournament that officials are not considering moving to fully electronic line calling, which will be ubiquitous on the ATP Tour next year.

Officials used to argue that the Hawk-Eye system was not as effective on clay because of the raised lines. Supporters of the technology say that is no longer an issue, and regardless, the computer was always better than a human anyway for this task.

The ruling against Zverev fell within the error tolerance of 3mm (just under an eighth of an inch), so it may never have been called out by an electronic system — but there would have been no person being asked to track a minuscule distance at high speed under severe pressure. Tennis needs to save its officials, and itself, from the vitriol that comes with mistakes.

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Can Iga Swiatek emulate Rafael Nadal in yet another way?

Iga Swiatek has long idolised Rafael Nadal — and similarities between the two have become increasingly hard to ignore.

So here’s another one: it was after Nadal’s fourth Roland Garros title that he won his first Wimbledon, in 2008. So could this be the year, after Swiatek’s fourth French Open, that she too breaks her duck in south-west London?

When The Athletic put this to Swiatek on Saturday, she responded with typical modesty.

“I think the biggest progress I can make on grass right now is using my serve that is better, but also I don’t expect a lot at Wimbledon next month),” she said.

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Iga Swiatek will return to Wimbledon as world No 1, but not necessarily a favourite. (Julian Finney / Getty Images)

“The balls are different. Overall, tennis is different on grass. I’ll just see and I’ll work hard to play better there.”

Swiatek also explained that she has been happy with her progress on grass, saying that she feels “like, every year, it’s easier for me to adapt to grass”.

Whether Swiatek can complete the fiendishly difficult French Open-Wimbledon double this time — as with every year she wins at Roland Garros — will be one of the key sub-plots as the surfaces switch for the early summer.

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Will the grass provide a soft landing for stars on the comeback trail?

It’s impossible to have witnessed this French Open and not feel very encouraged about the prospects for a few stars on the comeback trail from injury or, in Naomi Osaka’s case, maternity leave.

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Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Bianca Andreescu both made the third round at Roland Garros on a surface neither of them particularly enjoys. Shapovalov has been working through an injured knee. Andreescu has spent eight months recovering from a stress fracture in her back.

Both are now moving on towards Wimbledon.

Shapovalov could not be more thrilled. Grass is his favorite surface, and if he can beat quality opponents on the clay, he’s someone that players and fans alike will want to circle on their draw sheets.


Andreescu married power and craft in her return to Roland Garros, and could be formidable on the grass (Robert Prange / Getty Images)

The same goes for Andreescu, the 2019 U.S. Open champion. She showed every bit of her competitive fire and nearly unmatched creativity in Paris, and though she’s hardly a grass court specialist, her athletic talent and experience on the surface should make her a very good watch at the All England Club.

And then there’s Osaka, the furthest thing from a clay lover, pushing Iga Swiatek, the reigning and ultimate champion, to within a point of elimination in the second round. Osaka has never been much for grass either, but if that is what she is capable of on a surface she doesn’t like, there’s no reason she can’t perform even better at Wimbledon, where the grass will give her all sorts of love that the clay does not.

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Shot of the week


Recommended reading:


🏆 The winners of the week

🎾 ATP: 

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🏆 Carlos Alcaraz def. Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 to win the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. It is Alcaraz’s first French Open title.
🏆 Lloyd Harris def. Leandro Riedi 7-6(8), 7-5 to win the Lexus Surbiton Trophy (Challenger 125) in Surbiton, England. It is Harris’ first ATP title.

🎾 WTA:

🏆 Iga Swiatek def. Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1 to win the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. It is her fifth Grand Slam title and third French Open in a row.
🏆 Anca Todoni def. Panna Udvardy 6-4, 6-0 to win the Puglia Open (125) in Bari, Italy. It is Todoni’s first WTA title.
🏆 Katie Volynets def. Mayar Sherif 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 to win the Makarska Open (125) in Makarska, Croatia. It is Volynets’ first WTA title.


📈📉 On the rise / Down the line

📈 Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz both move up one place, to No 1 and No 2 respectively. It is Sinner’s first time at world No 1.
📈 Coco Gauff ascends one spot from No 3 to No 2. It is her highest career ranking to date.
📈 Jasmine Paolini moves up eight positions from No 15 to No 7. It is her highest career ranking to date.

📉 Novak Djokovic falls two places from No 1 to No 3. It is his lowest ranking since the summer of 2022.
📉 Aryna Sabalenka drops one position from No 2 to No 3 after Gauff surpassed her at the French Open.
📉 Andy Murray tumbles 25 spots from No 71 to No 96.

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📅 Coming up

🎾 ATP: 

📍Stuttgart, Germany, Boss Open (250) featuring Andy Murray, Alexander Zverev, Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton.
📍Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, Libema Open (250) featuring Alex de Minaur, Sebastian Korda, Arthur Fils and Tommy Paul.

📺 UK: Sky Sports; U.S.: Tennis Channel 💻 Tennis TV

🎾 WTA:

📍Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, Libema Open (250) featuring Jessica Pegula, Naomi Osaka, Clara Tauson and Bianca Andreescu.
📍Nottingham, England, Rothesay Open (250) featuring Ons Jabeur, Emma Raducanu, Marta Kostyuk and Katie Boulter.

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📺 UK: Sky Sports; U.S.: Tennis Channel

Tell us what you noticed this week in the comments below as the men’s and women’s tours continue.

(Top photo: Glenn Gervot/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

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'Super underrated' Evan Rodrigues' record-tying Stanley Cup start is no surprise to past, present teammates

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'Super underrated' Evan Rodrigues' record-tying Stanley Cup start is no surprise to past, present teammates

SUNRISE, Fla. — Evan Rodrigues smiled wide Monday night when a Toronto columnist asked what he would have said before the Stanley Cup Final had he been told two games in that he’d be outscoring Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, who combined for 127 regular-season goals.

“It’s pretty cool,” the Florida Panthers forward said, then shifting into wise-veteran mode and showing some humility in not giving the Edmonton Oilers, down 0-2 in the best-of-seven championship series, extra motivation going back home.

“I’m not too worried about the point totals or goals. At the end of the day, we’re looking for wins here and, yeah, that’s all I care about. It’s nice to contribute. It’s nice to contribute to a win.”

The 30-year-old Rodrigues isn’t only outscoring those three talents 3-0 on the goal blotter two games into the Final. He’s outscoring the 13 Oilers forwards who have dressed by the same margin.

An undrafted player out of Boston University playing on his fourth team in five years, Rodrigues’ three goals are tied for the most in NHL history through a player’s first two Cup Final games. On Monday night, in a 4-1 Florida victory during which Rodrigues scored a pair of third-period goals, he became the first player in Panthers history with a multi-goal game in the Final. His three goals in two games this series have matched his total from Florida’s 17 games in the first three rounds.

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Rodrigues’ first goal — a snapshot after an Evan Bouchard turnover — came three minutes into the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie. It stood as Rodrigues’ first game-winning goal in 35 career playoff games. His second goal snapped Edmonton’s run of 34 consecutive penalty kills over 12 games.

“So happy for him, proud of him,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose line Rodrigues joined during the Eastern Conference final series against the New York Rangers. “Playing with him the last few games, he reads the game so well. That’s two games in a row scoring some big goals for us. He’s a super smart player and I’m really happy to see him get rewarded right now.”

Tkachuk believed Rodrigues’s impact in Game 2 went beyond his goals. He played steady hockey, moved his feet well and forechecked. The Panthers had more than 70 percent of the expected goal share with him on the ice at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Rodrigues signed with the Buffalo Sabres out of college, but his breakout didn’t come until after the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for him. The Penguins dealt with early-season injuries in 2021-22, which led to Rodrigues getting more opportunity. He capitalized, scoring a career-high 19 goals and 43 points. Still, he didn’t land a long-term contract in free agency, so he went to the Colorado Avalanche, then the defending champions, on a one-year, $2 million deal. He continued to prove his worth with the Avalanche, averaging a career high in ice time (17:51 per game) and playing in the Avalanche’s top six.

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“He’s super underrated and can do a lot of different things in a lot of situations,” said Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel, who played with Rodrigues at Boston University and in Buffalo.

“The more opportunity he’s gotten over his career, the better he’s done,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who credited Rodrigues with being able to play alongside top players. “I think he’s really comfortable in his own skin, knows what his strengths are.”

But a long playoff run eluded Rodrigues before this season. He was on the ice when Artemi Panarin eliminated the Penguins with a Round 1, Game 7 overtime winner in 2022. He was on the ice again the next year as Colorado couldn’t find an equalizer in the dying seconds of its Round 1, Game 7 loss to Seattle.

Rodrigues had never made it out of the first round until joining the Panthers. He was so excited for the Stanley Cup Final to start, he said, that he wished Game 1 could have been a 1 p.m. start.

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Florida general manager Bill Zito signed Rodrigues to a four-year, $3 million average annual value contract last summer — the longest, most lucrative contract of the forward’s career. He’s proven to be worth the commitment. After a 39-point regular season — his third year in a row with more than 35 — he’s given the Panthers six goals and 11 points in 19 playoff games.

“He’s a bit of a chameleon,” said Kyle Okposo, who also played with Rodrigues in Buffalo. “If you look at the teams that he’s played on and who he’s played with, it’s not an easy thing to go play with some of the top players in the world.

“He has a unique confidence about him where at times when guys are playing with those top guys, they just want to give him the puck and get out of their way, and Evan is a guy that he makes a lot of plays and he has the confidence to keep it on a stick and make the right play at the right time. And I think that that’s why he’s had so much success everywhere he’s gone.”

Monday night was an example of that. He started on the second line with Sam Bennett and Tkachuk, then was elevated to the top line in the third period with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart until Barkov got hurt midway through the period.

Coach Paul Maurice has said this postseason that he likes to play Carter Verhaeghe next to Barkov in short spurts of games, but they usually have an expiration date. Maurice saw something during Game 2 that made him elevate Rodrigues.

Rodrigues went on what Maurice called “a world tour of our lineup” throughout the regular season. Early on, the coach had him on Barkov’s line but thought he, understandably, was too deferential to his linemates. Now he’s found his game and can fit in wherever Florida needs.

“It’s something I’ve taken pride in my whole career, being able to play up and down the lineup, power play, penalty kill,” Rodrigues said. “It’s nice to contribute to wins. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who it is. … We’re looking for wins here, and we’re happy with the results.”

When Rodrigues was on the Avalanche in 2022-23, he watched the team raise its 2022 Stanley Cup banner ahead of the season opener. Though Rodrigues wasn’t part of the championship-winning team, he felt chills as tribute videos played and the banner rose into the rafters.

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Now, in large part thanks to his early series heroics, he’s two wins away from another banner night — this time one where he’d be fully a part of the celebration.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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Donald Trump confirms appearance on upcoming episode of Logan Paul's podcast

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Donald Trump confirms appearance on upcoming episode of Logan Paul's podcast

YouTuber sensation-turned professional wrestler Logan Paul teased a special guest for an upcoming episode of his popular podcast.

On Wednesday, former president Donald Trump confirmed he will make an appearance on the June 13 episode of Paul’s “Impaulsive” podcast. Trump will celebrate his 78th birthday the day after the podcast airs.

In a video posted to TikTok on Wednesday, Trump and Paul appeared to engage in a face off before they both broke out in laughter. 

Logan Paul is seen in the ring as his brother Jake Paul takes on Andre August during the Jake Paul v Andre August at the Caribe Royale Orlando on December 15, 2023 in Orlando, Florida.  (Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

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“Face off with @LoganPaul drops tomorrow,” the video caption reads.

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In a series of photos posted to Paul’s Instagram account, the WWE star is seen posing for a photo as Trump stood next to him while he held a championship wrestling belt. 

“From interviewing for a college scholarship at 18 years old (which: I didn’t get) to interviewing the president at 29. The glow up is real,” Paul’s caption read.

CHIEFS’ PATRICK MAHOMES GIVES SUPER BOWL RINGS TO LOGAN PAUL FOR WWE BEATDOWN

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In one of the photos, “Impaulsive” co-host Mike Majlak was seen sitting next to Paul as the pair conducted the interview with Trump.

Logan Paul at WrestleMania 40

Logan Paul enters the ring for a match against Randy Orton and Kevin Owens during Night Two at Lincoln Financial Field on April 07, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

In April, Logan’s brother Jake stopped by Fox News Channel’s “Jesse Watters Primetime” where he told host Jesse Waters that he extended an invitation to his fight against Mike Tyson to the former president.

“Trump, if you’re watching this, this is an invite. I know you used to promote Tyson, so I’d love to have you at the fight,” Paul said. “Donny, pull up, we’ve got tickets for you.”

According to Wired, an unnamed person with the Trump campaign responded to the YouTuber-turned boxer’s offer, saying the former president was “seriously considering” attending the event.

Trump has made numerous appearances at UFC fights in recent years. His walkouts at UFC events have garnered millions of views on multiple occasions.

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In April 2023, he arrived at a fight in Miami and sat next to Tyson. Then in November, Trump left a UFC event with an entourage that included musician Kid Rock.

Donald Trump attends UFC 302

Former President Trump is seen in attendance at UFC 302, June 1, 2024, in Newark, New Jersey. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Earlier this month and just two days after his felony conviction in New York City, Trump made his way across the Hudson River to Newark, New Jersey, and received a raucous greeting from the nearly 18,000 fans inside the Prudential Center for UFC 302.

Trump also used the event to launch his TikTok account. UFC President Dana White stood alongside Trump in the launch video.

But fans will have to wait a little while longer to see the younger Paul brother take on Tyson, as the upcoming bout has been put on hold.

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The boxing match was originally scheduled to take place on July 20 in Arlington, Texas. But Tyson recently experienced health complications, which forced the postponement.

Despite the delay, Jake maintains that he will be ready to go whenever the fight happens.

“I’m ready whenever you are. This is too big of an opportunity. This fight is going to change the world,” Paul said in a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, on May 31.

Follow Fox News Digital’s sports coverage on X and subscribe to the Fox News Sports Huddle newsletter.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Donald Trump is scheduled to appear on Logan Paul’s “Impaulsive” podcast.

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Plaschke: Laker legend Jerry West's final legacy sadly includes estrangement from Lakers

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Plaschke: Laker legend Jerry West's final legacy sadly  includes estrangement from Lakers

The sadness was compounded by the strangeness.

The announcement of the death of the greatest Laker was made by the Clippers.

“Jerry West, the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him, passed away peacefully this morning at the age of 86,” read the Wednesday morning release from the Clippers’ communications department.

The Clippers loved Jerry West, and were loved by him, and he was treated with the utmost dignity and respect during his seven years as their adviser.

But he will forever be a Laker.

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He built the Lakers into a Southern California institution as a player. He constructed and nurtured the Lakers’ greatness as a general manager.

Sankara XT pauses to photograph a statue of Jerry West at Crypto.Com Arena after hearing the news of his death Wednesday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He was their conscience. He was their heartbeat. He was their soul. He was the most important person to ever walk through their gym doors.

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But in the end, for a variety of reasons, the basketball genius and his creation were estranged.

West walked away from the Lakers 24 years ago and never returned.

It was always so bizarre, the best executive in the history of sports living down the street from an organization he helped build into the most celebrated in sports … and yet they didn’t talk.

The Lakers struggled after the trade of Shaquille O’Neal while West watched from Memphis. The Lakers were adrift in the final years of Kobe Bryant while West watched from Golden State. The Lakers were buckling in the early years of LeBron James while West watched from the Clippers.

He was so close, yet so far.

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The Lakers honored him with a statue in 2011 in an event attended by owner Jerry Buss and all sorts of Lakers royalty. But they continued along separate paths until his death Wednesday poignantly reminded everyone of their divorce.

The Clippers were the first to issue a statement early Wednesday morning, reading, “The Clippers have lost a mentor, a confidant and a friend.”

At the same time, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer issued his own statement, writing, “From the first day I met Jerry seven years ago, he inspired me with his intellect, honesty and enthusiasm. He never stopped. I spent a lot of time with him, some of the best times of my life. He always lent an ear, and he always had a quip. He always left me laughing. I will miss him.”

The Lakers’ statement came later, reading, in part, “Jerry West is forever a basketball icon … Jerry West will always be a Lakers legend.”

It was nice, but it was four sentences and there was no personalized tribute from a Lakers official until Jeanie Buss issued a short statement on Instagram in the early afternoon.

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“Today is a difficult day for all Laker fans. I know that if my father were here, he would say that Jerry West was at the heart of all that made the Lakers great. He was an icon to all — but he was also a hero to our family. We all send our sympathies to Karen and the West family.”

Again, it was nice, but compared to past Lakers’ tributes for fallen stars such as Elgin Baylor and Tex Winter, the team’s response was underwhelming for a man who deserved so much more.

Jerry West was essentially the first Los Angeles Lakers draft pick, as he was the first-round selection of the Minnesota Lakers shortly before they moved to Los Angeles.

It was West and Elgin Baylor who became this city’s first professional basketball stars. It was West’s 63-foot overtime-forcing basket in the 1970 Finals against the New York Knicks that became one of this city’s first great sports moments.

He had this city’s first great sports nickname — “Mr. Clutch.” He garnered arguably the highest honor of any athlete in this city’s history — his silhouette is the NBA logo.

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Lakers star Jerry West shoots a free throw during a 1973 game against the Chicago Bulls.

Lakers star Jerry West shoots a free throw during a 1973 game against the Chicago Bulls.

(Heinz Kluetmeier / Sports Illustrated via Getty Ima)

Then, after 15 years as a star Lakers player, he became this city’s first dynasty builder, nurturing the “Showtime” era, then personally building the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant era by signing Shaq and trading for Kobe.

Tweeted Byron Scott: “It’s because of Jerry West that there was even ‘Showtime.’”

Tweeted Magic Johnson: “Laker Nation, the only reason we have 17 championships is because of Jerry West and his expertise drafting players, trading for players, and hiring the right coaches.”

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That expertise has been sorely missing from the Lakers in recent years. In fact, it is one of two occurrences that have led to the current struggles of the once-strong front office.

One could say the slow slide began with the departure of Jerry West and the death of Jerry Buss.

When West abruptly left the organization after the 2000 championship, he said his body could no longer take the stress.

“Everything around here has taken its toll,” he told me at the time. “You see my outside, but you don’t see my inside, and it’s just awful in there. This compulsion with winning, it’s a sickness.”

But it was about more than winning, it was about how they were winning. Coach Phil Jackson was being given more power. He was also dating the owner’s daughter, giving Jackson more perceived stature. West was increasingly uncomfortable with dynamics that seemed to be marginalizing his presence.

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When West talked of, “Everything around here … ,” much of that was centered on Jackson and Buss.

As the years passed, West became more bitter, and the Lakers became more resentful of his bitterness, and, once Jerry Buss died in 2013, West’s connections to the club were seemingly gone forever.

Jerry West speaks during news conference while Clippers coach Doc Rivers sits beside him and laughs in 2017.

Jerry West, right, speaks during a news conference as Clippers coach Doc Rivers laughs during a 2017 news conference.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

One of the final breaking points occurred in 2017, when Jeanie Buss cleared out the front office and hired Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team. West had publicly said he would be interested in returning home to join them, but nothing was offered, and so he joined the Clippers.

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In his introductory Clippers news conference, he took a veiled shot at the Lakers, saying,“My last stop along the way, [I want] to be associated with people who are really basketball people, people I have respect for and, more importantly, I think, an incredible owner.”

Four years later, the relationship was ruined forever when, on a podcast, Jeanie Buss named her five most important Lakers ever.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Phil Jackson.

West, unarguably the most important Laker ever, wasn’t even on the list, and he was furious. He was so insulted, he told one media organization that he sometimes wished he had never even played with the Lakers.

“One disappointing thing [about my career] is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible,” West said in a 2022 interview with The Athletic. “I still don’t know why. And at the end of the day, when I look back, I say, ‘Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared.’”

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To all this animosity, add the fact that in 2019, the Lakers parted ways with West’s son Ryan, who was their director of player personnel. Then there was Jerry West’s claim that the Lakers took away his season tickets, further annoying him.

Amid Wednesday‘s gloom, it was inspirational to see how the Clippers supported Jerry West, with lengthy tributes not only from Ballmer, but also team president Lawrence Frank and Coach Tyronn Lue.

But it was equally sad to see how detached West appeared from the organization he built.

The Lakers still have room on their jerseys for a patch, right? Next year they should wear a JW in his honor.

The Lakers have never dedicated their hardwood, right? Next year they could name it, “Jerry West Court.”

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The greatest Laker is gone, but his legacy must not be forgotten.

Especially by the Lakers.

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