Jerry West: All-Time Great On Court And In Front Office
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He has a statue outside his alma mater’s college basketball arena and a statue outside the arena in which his NBA team played.
He has a street named after him in the city in which he played college basketball. He has an Olympic Gold Medal. He is the NBA logo. He won one championship ring as a player, seven as an executive. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
And this year Jerry West will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The West Virginia legend is 80 years old now. He could be resting on those laurels but, instead he still dominates the basketball world over which he has ruled since the 1950s.
He retired as general manager from the Golden State Warriors after reinventing the game he perfected as a player, and went to the Memphis Grizzlies, turning that franchise into a playoff team.
Again he stepped aside but could not stay away, for he joined the hapless Los Angeles Clippers, a team without any championships and often without hope.
This week he turned them into contenders by adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to their roster, beating out the Lakers for the services of Leonard less than a month after he had led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA title.
That shook the town more than the Ridgecrest earthquake.
Maybe Bay Area sportswriter Tim Kawakami, editor-in-chief of The Athletic, San Francisco, summed up best what Jerry West has done as a builder of championship teams in this Tweet:
“And Jerry West has now been part of the successful free-agent recruitment and landing of:
— Shaquille O’Neal
— Kevin Durant
— Kawhi Leonard
(And acquiring of Kobe Bryant and Paul George.)
There is nobody who comes close to this in the history of the NBA or perhaps all of sports.”
You often see sportswriters and sportscasters swoon over general managers, and such is the case with Jerry West.
The highly-respected David Aldridge ranked the all-time general managers in the NBA and he put West second, right behind the legendary Red Auerbach, who was coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics when they won 17 championships.
“Forty-three years after he retired as a player, Jerry West’s word is still gold around the NBA,” wrote Aldridge in his rankings.
And that was just after he announced he was joining the Clippers, before he had collared Leonard.
Then, in January, 2018 — again before the Leonard deal — this was written on Medium.com:
“How will this man be remembered? For the NBA logo? Mr. Clutch? Or the best GM of all-time?”
It is an interesting question, as was this one in posed in the article that cited he took over as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982-83, just as the Showtime era was beginning:
“Name a GM that’s worked with one team for 20 years and left the job in the same condition he received it? Go ahead I’ll wait? We will never see this type of greatness.”
In those 20 years he won 6 NBA championships.
And did we mention the Golden State Warriors?
You get the picture. Certain those who have turned their lives over to Twitter across the world get it.
”Once again Jerry West shows you what a real GM can do. No leaking to the media, no stupid ESPN talk show, just quietly doing his job. Are you watching, Magic?” — Winn Sirotta
”Every team Jerry West goes to becomes championship teams. Look what he’s done. In the middle of the night last day of transfers he got Kawhi and Paul George, both MVP candidates. My lord, my head is spinning.” — Ronald R. Ouma
”So incredibly grateful for this guy. Hats off to Jerry West. If you notice no media spoke about the Clips even having a shot. This tells me a lot about the process and how quiet it actually was.” — Toronto fan
So what is it that makes Jerry West the best at anything he does?
Certainly there is no simple answer.
Or is there?
Some athletes reach greatness on their ability alone. Jerry West took his game far beyond his ability.
Yes, he was a great scorer, but do you know he holds the all-time rebounding record at WVU?
Jerry West, all 6-foot-4 of him.
Rebounding takes timing, jumping ability, long arms … but mostly it takes heart.
Jerry West was one of the greatest offensive machines in NBA history. He once hit a 60-foot shot in the final seconds of a playoff to tie it — there were no 3-point shots then. He averaged 46 points a game in the first round of the 1965 playoffs against the Baltimore Bullets and averaged 40 points a game for the entire playoffs that season. He averaged 27 points a game for his playing career.
Fine. But know what? He was a member of the four straight All-NBA Defensive Teams, beginning in 1970.
Not so amazing you say? They didn’t start naming a team until 1969, with West a member of the second team, and in 1970 when he started his run he was 32 years old.
Jerry West succeeds at what he does because he wills himself to succeed. He devotes time to it, effort to it, dedicates himself to it until Jerry West, the person, becomes Jerry West the player, the golfer, the executive.
His is a legend that will live forever, maybe not as the best NBA player ever, maybe not as the best coach, maybe not as the best executive, but as the man was the best at every facet of the game that he adopted as his own.
Or was it the other way around?