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.
The next several seasons would see a variation of that theme. West would put up big numbers only to see his club fall in the championship to the Bill Russell led Boston Celtics. Even with a Hall of Fame cast that included Elgin Baylor and eventually Wilt Chamberlain, L.A.'s seasons constantly came up short against Boston. In all the teams would square off six times in the 1960s, with the Lakers losing every single time.
Those losses could hardly be credited to West, who was known for his calm demeanor and lethal crunch time scoring touch. During the 1965 playoffs averaged more than 40 points per game. In the 1969 finals, West was equally impressive, totaling 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in a classic deciding Game 7 duel in Los Angeles that saw West's Lakers go down, 108-106. Despite the loss, West was named MVP of the series.
More championship heartbreak would follow in 1970 and '71 before finally breaking through in five games over the New York Knicks in 1972. The title was the culmination of one of the great NBA seasons of all-time, in which the Lakers went 69-13 in the regular season.
Following the 1974 season, Jerry West retired from playing basketball with career totals that included 25,192 points and 14-All Star nods. His impact on the game cannot be underestimated. It's a silhouette of West dribbling the ball that inspired the classic NBA logo, still in use today.
West was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 and was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team in 1996.
Coach and General Manager
In 1976, Jerry West returned to the Lakers for a three-year stint as head coach. After working as a scout for the team beginning in 1979, he was named general manager of the club at the start of the 1982 season.
While some instrumental players, in the form of Ervin "Magic" Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were already in place to form a formidable Laker team, West is credited with molding the club, through trades, drafts, and free agents, into a franchise that would go on to win five NBA titles during the 1980s.
In 1996, after a few mediocre seasons, West showed his executive touch again when he signed Shaquille O'Neal to a mammoth free agent contract and pulled off a deal for the draft rights for a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant. Those two moves set the Lakers up to win three straight NBA titles from 2000-02.
Following the 2002 season Jerry West stepped down from his position with the Lakers and for the first time in his life, found work with a different NBA team when he took on the role of President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies finished 50-32 in 2004, the franchise's first winning season and earned West Executive of the Year honors. While a string of playoff appearances would follow, West was never able to replicate the championship success he'd created in LA, with his new club. Following a disappointing 2007 season, West resigned from the franchise.
Jerry West has been married twice and has a total of five sons. He has three boys (David, Mark and Michael) with his first wife, Martha, whom he divorced in 1976. He has two additional sons (Ryan and Jonnie) with his current wife, Karen. The couple resides in Bel Air, California.
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