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Jerry West is a former basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers who went on to become the team’s head coach and general manager.
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Born on May 28, 1938 in Chelyan, West Virginia, Jerry West played basketball on a collegiate level and led the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. He joined the Los Angeles Lakers and played with the team for 14 years, reaching the NBA finals nine times and winning the championship in 1972. He set records during his court time and went on to work as Lakers’ head coach and general manager.
Professional basketball player and National Basketball Association executive Jerry Alan West was born on May 28, 1938, in Cabin Creek, West Virginia. Raised in nearby Cheylan, West was one of six children born to Howard West and his wife Cecil Sue.
His childhood was largely shaped by basketball and tragedy. At the age of 12, his oldest brother, David, was killed in combat in the Korean War. Despite their 10-year age difference, the two brothers were close. David had been Jerry's protector and pushed his brother to pursue his studies and athletic dreams. With David's death, Jerry turned inward, changing from an outgoing, social kid, to a self-described loner.
His imagination, however, didn't suffer. West, who had to take vitamin shots as a young teenager because of his small size, dreamed of being the hero in almost everything he did.
"I'd go fishing and always pretend I would catch the biggest fish," he recalled many years later. "I'd stay out there for hours after everybody else left until I caught something. When I shot baskets, I was always the coach and star player and always made the winning shot."
As a ballplayer, West honed his game at a makeshift hoop nailed to a storage building at a neighbor's house. At East Bank High School in East Bank, West Virginia, West's dreams became reality. He was easily the best player on his club, and during his senior year he led the school to the state championship and became the first player in state history to score more than 900 points in a single season. The guard's accomplishments became such celebrated stuff that residents of East Bank renamed the town "West Bank" for a day. Today the town continues the tradition each year on March 24.
Spurning some 60 colleges that recruited him, West stayed near his family and attended West Virginia University. There, his legend only grew larger. He led the Mountaineers to the NCAA title game his junior year and the following season averaged more than 29 points per game, en route to earning MVP honors for the Southern Conference. In all West would finish with eye-popping college numbers, setting 12 school records.
In the 1960 NBA draft, West was chosen second overall by the Minneapolis Lakers, a franchise with a rich history but would soon be moved by its owner, Bob Short, to Los Angeles for the upcoming season.
West's impact on the club was immediate. For the 1961 season he helped the club return to the playoffs. The following year, his value to the team rocketed, with West averaging more than 30 points per game and leading the Lakers to the NBA finals, where it lost to the Boston Celtics.
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