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Jerry West: Basketball great and architect of NBA champions

By: Agence France Presse June 13,2024 - 07:52 AM

(FILES) Former Los Angeles Lakers' general manager Jerry West (L) points to Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (C) and Earvin "Magic" Johnson during a ceremony where Abdul-Jabbar unveiled a statue of himself at Staples Center in Los Angeles on November 16, 2012.

(FILES) Former Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager Jerry West (L) points to Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (C) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson during a ceremony where Abdul-Jabbar unveiled a statue of himself at Staples Center in Los Angeles on November 16, 2012. | GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Obsessive perfectionism and a deadly jump shot  made Jerry West, who died on Wednesday at age 86, one of the greatest guards in NBA history.

His uncompromising will to win and encyclopedic knowledge of the game also made him one of the league’s all-time great executives.

An All-Star in all 14 years of his playing career with the Lakers, West became a byword for brilliance.

(FILES) NBA legend Jerry West looks on during the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 6, 2019. | AFP

(FILES) NBA legend Jerry West looks on during the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 6, 2019. | AFP

READ MORE: Basketball legend Jerry West dead at 86

Before Michael Jordan’s soaring silhouette launched a billion shoe sales, the figure of West slicing toward the basket provided the template for the NBA’s red, white and blue logo.

“He cut so fast and darted so unexpectedly that the man guarding him always looked as if he were trying to catch a feather on a big wave,” Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote in 1993.

“Jerry West could do everything Michael Jordan could do and his 25,192 career points prove it.”

Jerome Alan West was born on May 28, 1938. He grew up poor in West Virginia, haunted by his older brother David’s death in the Korean War and fearful of his physically abusive father.

“When you had a father who beat you, as mine did, for reasons I’m still trying to fathom, it is hard to think of yourself as very special, as deserving of acclaim,” West wrote in an unflinching autobiography in 2011.

The memoir pulled the curtain back on a life in which West used basketball to battle depression and anxiety — with stunningly successful results.

A two-time All-American at West Virginia University, West starred with Oscar Robertson on the United States 1960 Olympic gold medal team in Rome.

The Minneapolis Lakers chose West with the second overall pick behind Robertson in the 1960 NBA Draft — then promptly moved to Los Angeles, where West would establish himself as an NBA star.

West was the third player in league history to reach 25,000 points, after Wilt Chamberlain and Robertson. He departed the league holding records for career post-season scoring and the highest average in a playoff series.

Startlingly, West’s relentless drive to succeed yielded just one NBA title, in 1972.

West’s Lakers reached the NBA Finals nine times. Their eight defeats included six to the Boston Celtics.

People look at the statue of late NBA legend Jerry West by artists Omri and Julie Rotblatt Amrany at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on June 12, 2024. West, who died on June 12 at age 86, is considered one of the greatest guards in NBA history. The figure of West slicing toward the basket provided the template for the NBA's red, white and blue logo. | AFP

People look at the statue of late NBA legend Jerry West by artists Omri and Julie Rotblatt Amrany at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on June 12, 2024. West, who died on June 12 at age 86, is considered one of the greatest guards in NBA history. The figure of West slicing toward the basket provided the template for the NBA’s red, white and blue logo. | AFP

In the seventh game of the 1969 championship series, West played with a leg injury and had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists as the Lakers succumbed to the Celtics yet again.

West, who poured in 43 points in game one of the series, was named Most Valuable Player of the ’69 Finals — the only NBA Finals MVP from a losing team.

“Los Angeles has not won the championship,” Celtics center Bill Russell said, “but Jerry West is a champion.”

Jerry West: Basketball Great is ‘Mr. Clutch’

He was certainly the player the Lakers turned to when it mattered most. The player nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” delivered one of the most famous buzzer-beaters of all time — a 60-foot swish that tied game three of the 1970 NBA Finals against the New York Knicks.

“There wasn’t a better clutch player in the history of the NBA than Jerry West,” said Pat Riley, who coached the “Showtime” era Lakers of the 1980s — teams that West, as general manager, helped put together.

West enjoyed modest success coaching the Lakers for three seasons in the 1970s, compiling a 145-101 record and reaching the playoffs three teams.

But in the front office, he excelled.

West and Kobe celebrate after Lakers beat Spurs in Game 5 in 2008.

(FILES) Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after the Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on May 29, 2008. | AFP

West won eight championships as an executive or club adviser. Six of those came with the Lakers, including as architect of the three-peat as the man who signed Shaquille O’Neal and drafted Kobe Bryant.

He helped turn the struggling Memphis Grizzlies into a playoff team in the early 2000s and would help mold the Golden State Warriors into a dynasty before heading back to Los Angeles to serve as a consultant for a Clippers team eager to challenge the Lakers’ Southern California hegemony.

In 2019, US President Donald Trump awarded West the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“It never ceases to amaze me, the places you can go in this world chasing a basketball,” West said upon receiving America’s highest civilian honor. “I swear my name is going to look like a misprint on this list.”

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