AUTHOR’S NOTE: I unofficially declare this Jerry West week, and will dedicate this week’s columns to the greatest West Virginia University legend of all-time. A couple of weeks back he sat for an hour interview with Buster Scher on The Buster Show, a podcast out of New York, and spoke of many things including what made him what he is, Michael Jordan, his memorabilia, what makes greatness and a good many other things. We thought we could take what he had to say and try to apply it to make your lives better, so this week we will dedicate to The Logo, Mr. Clutch or simply the best athlete to ever come out WVU.)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jerry West had a love in his life and was fortunate enough to not only pursue it but to become the personification of what it was about.
When they came to choose someone for the NBA logo, a shadow figure of West dribbling the ball was selected in 1969 and has lasted all these years. There is a movement afoot now to replace it with Kobe Bryant, but there is really no need to do this for Jerry West represented all you want in a logo.
On court he was among the greatest ever, off-court as well. He loved basketball, lived for basketball and, in the end, became basketball, first at West Virginia where he led the team to its only NCAA Final, then with the U.S. Olympic team in 1960, an all-amateur team that won the gold, and then in the NBA, where he was tormented by failing to win an NBA title until his last of 10 appearances in the finals.
This is how it all came about and what you can take out of his journey.
“I think all of us have loves in our lives. I’ve had a longstanding love in my life, something that has always driven me. Some people as they age and take a different perspective in their lives, they lose that a little bit,” West said recently on The Buster Show podcast.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a league so many years,” said West, who grew from a shy country boy from southern West Virginia to a star player and one of the wisest, most successful executives in the NBA’s history.
For all the success, though, in his playing days, and there was so much of that even today, 60 years after entering the league, he is still considered a must on any all-time NBA roster at guard.
But it did not come easily or without looking at the prospect of playing a celebrated career without winning a championship ring, which was the ultimate to West.
“Unfortunately, our celebrations were of sorrow,” West said of those days of misfortune, the misfortune being in a league dominated by Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics.
Oddly, he looked at things much as I always did as a reporter.
“I’ve always said there are more stories in a losing locker room than there are in a winning locker room.” West observed. “In a winning locker room, all you hear is praise. You don’t see the torment that goes on in the locker of the team that has lost. “
And losing tormented West, who never was in it for personal glory or even riches, both of which were heaped upon him, but for the joy of victory.
With a winning team, the mood is totally different,” he said. “You start the season and you know it is going to be a marathon. You get to the playoffs, you know it is going to be a sprint. Sometimes you lose by a step, sometimes you lose by five steps. Every once in a while, especially in my career, one time we got a big lead and we won the race.
“The stories, the sadness, how you feel after the season is over … you feel worthless because people say, well, what do you play for?”
All of us, of course, face failure, often on a daily basis. Often, we accept it as a part of life.
West never could accept it. He was playing for more than just himself.
“You play for a couple of things. You play for the city you’re in, particularly in cities that embrace professional teams. But you also play for the people you are playing with, the people who work for an organization. You are playing for them, so losing is not something that goes away very quickly,” he said.
“You’re angry. You have all these emotions. People say, ‘Well, you were one of the last two teams standing … well, that’s not good enough. People are conditioned to win. Some people are more competitive than others.”
It is in that race West spoke of where you learn who you are, what you are, and never get satisfied with your position in life.
Jerry West was driven to be a champion, to reach perfection, even though he knew that was unrealistic in any profession, perhaps most of all athletics.
“The thing that’s really difficult is you play the whole season to prove you are one of the best teams. Let’s say you get into the finals, whatever sport it is … football, hockey, baseball or basketball. You play in the seventh and final game to determine who is the champion,” West said.
“I want you to imagine the emotion for each team that is playing for a championship. Sometimes you can have players who go out there and lay really big eggs … can’t catch the ball, can’t shoot it. People always use the word that they choked.
“Well, I don’t believe that,” West continued. “I believe destiny is a huge part of it. You know, the ball bouncing the wrong way and things like that. Effort will sometimes even that out, if your effort is good.
“But, at the end of the day, someone will lose and someone won’t lose. Can you imagine playing one game to decide a whole season, to decide a whole playoff. It almost doesn’t seem fair.”