Obituary of Jerry West | Basketball

Jerry West, who has died at age 86, was a unique force in basketball for nearly seven decades. A star of the Los Angeles Lakers for 14 years, West is not only still considered one of the best players in National Basketball Association (NBA) history, but during his second managerial career, he built two Distinct Laker dynastic teams, reversed. the struggling Memphis Grizzlies and, as a consultant, played a role in the Golden State Warriors’ run of success. As if that wasn’t enough, West was also the model for the NBA logo, a silhouette of him dribbling the ball in his left hand, earning him his everlasting nickname, “the Logo.”

Great players often need more than one nickname to fully define them; Los Angeles announcer Chick Hearn nicknamed West “Mr. Clutch”, in reference to his penchant for winning shots. Yet West’s individual talent was often diminished by his teams’ inability to clear the final hurdle. His most famous shot, a 60-footer that tied the New York Knicks at the buzzer in the 1970 NBA Finals and sent the game into overtime, nonetheless ended in a Laker loss.

And no player took the defeat more intensely. “He never learned to lose,” Jeff Coplon wrote in an article titled The Man Who Loves Basketball Too Much, published in Men’s Journal in 1996. He was often seen as an unstable, tightly wound man who could be frustrated by the imperfections of his behavior. his own room and that of others.

West got this obsession the hard way. He grew up poor in West Virginia’s coal country, born in Cheylan, where his father, Howard, was a mine electrician and machine operator for an oil company. His mother, Cecile Sue (née Creasy), worked in a store. Jerry was a shy, sickly child who needed vitamins and was kept away from sports. So he started shooting basketballs alone at a hoop on the side of a neighbor’s barn. His father was violent; Jerry spent much of his childhood with a loaded shotgun under his bed. In 1951, his brother David, nine years his senior, was killed in the Korean War, and for Jerry, basketball became an obsession.

After failing on his first attempt to make his high school basketball team, a growth spurt to 6 feet led him to start the following year, and he became a star during in his third season, taking East Bank High School to the state championship; Each year thereafter, until the school closed in 1999, on the anniversary of that match, the West Bank was renamed the West Bank for a Day.

A statue of West in front of the Arena in Los Angeles. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP

During his first year at West Virginia University, the team won 26 games and lost two; in his second game, they lost the national championship to the University of California 71–70, although West was chosen the tournament’s “Most Valuable Player” (MVP). The following year, ranked second in the country, they were upset in the tournament by New York University. In the 1960 NBA draft, West was selected second overall by the Lakers, after Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson. That summer, California coach Pete Newell selected the two players as the core of the U.S. Olympic team; in Rome, West and Robertson led them to eight victories and the gold medal.

West joined the Lakers for the 1960-61 season. Teammate Elgin Baylor heard his southern accent and nicknamed him Tweety Bird, but the name that stuck was the mountain-sounding “Zeke, from Cabin Creek,” Cabin Creek being just down the road from Cheylan.

Thanks to Baylor’s ability to play above the basket and West’s shooting, the two were nicknamed “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside” in homage to Army football greats Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. West, now listed at 6-foot-3 but actually almost two inches taller, with long arms and good jumping ability, could score, pass, rebound and defend. But he had an innate sense of sport. “It’s a game of speed,” he said, “and how your mind is wired.” And he was tough; his nose was broken 14 times.

He and Baylor made Los Angeles the best team in the NBA West. But they couldn’t beat Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, falling to them six times in the championship finals. In 1969, limping because of a hamstring injury, West scored 42 points in the deciding game and repeated his college feat by being named MVP of a losing team, the only one in NBA history. Russell once said that his greatest wish was to “see Jerry happy.” In 1970, the Lakers added Wilt Chamberlain as center and, after losing to the Knicks, came back to finally win a championship in 1972, with a team that won a record 33 consecutive games.

West retired two years later. He transferred his obsession to golf; at one point he set a course record of 28 on the front nine at the Bel-Air Club in Los Angeles, but finished the round with a 65. In 1976, the Lakers persuaded him to return as coach. He improved the team to the best record in the league in his first season, but he bristled at the players’ selfishness and neglect and after three seasons moved to scouting.

He took over as general manager of the Lakers in 1982, winning four titles with the “Showtime” team led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Then he built a second dynasty around Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Only the Red Auerbachs of Boston had succeeded in building successive dynasties; no former star player has ever done it. But a rift with coach Phil Jackson led to West’s departure for Memphis in 2000.

He retired in 2007 and published an autobiography in 2011: West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life (with Jonathan Coleman). That year, he joined the board of directors of the Warriors, and titles followed in 2015 and 2017. He publicly offered to return to the Lakers, who were rebuilding their management; instead, he went to the Los Angeles Clippers.

West’s first marriage, to his college sweetheart Martha Jane Kane, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Karen Bua, whom he married in 1978, and their two sons, Ryan and Johnnie, as well as three sons, David, Mark and Michael, from his first marriage.

Jerry Alan West, basketball player and executive, born May 28, 1938; died June 12, 2024

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