NBA Legend Jerry West Dead at 86

News & Politics

Basketball Hall of Fame legend Jerry West died on Tuesday at the age of 86. 

From 1960 to 1974, the graceful, 6’3″ West Virginian played with the Los Angeles Lakers. But he had the great misfortune of playing in the same era as the Boston Celtics, whose run of championships in the 1960s and ’70s broke West’s heart. Seven times the Lakers reached the NBC finals during West’s illustrious career, and they won only once, in 1972. That year, Boston was defeated in the Eastern Conference finals by the New York Knicks.

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A fourteen-time all-star and the only player to win the NBA Finals MVP on the losing side, Jerry West’s playing career was only half the story. His time as a scout for the Lakers, later head coach and the general manager beginning in 1982. He helped invent the “Showtime” brand of run-and-gun basketball that put the NBA on the world map.

New York Times:

As a long-armed sharpshooting guard, West, who played from 1960 to 1974, is on anyone’s short list of the finest backcourt players in the history of the game. At 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and well under 200 pounds, he wasn’t especially big, even by the standards of the day: His great contemporaries Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek and, a bit later, Walt Frazier were taller, brawnier men adept at posting up opposing guards. (Havlicek also played forward.)

But West, who routinely played through injuries — his nose was reportedly broken nine times — was a quick and powerful leaper with a lightning right-handed release, all of which allowed him to get his shot away against taller, stronger defenders.

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His impact on the game did not end when he retired as a player. West turned out to be a canny executive. He made some brilliant moves to rebuild the Lakers after the Magic Johnson era that brought superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to the Lakers.

The Athletic:

West also coached the Lakers from 1976 to 1979. As an executive, West’s name became synonymous with the Lakers’ most dominant era, as he helped craft the franchise’s “Showtime” dynasty. The Lakers won five championships in the 1980s with West as general manager and a team led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. In the following decade, he was instrumental in bringing Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson to the Lakers, laying the foundation for another run of titles.

He won a sixth championship as a Lakers executive in 2000, and later won two more in 2015 and 2017 while a team executive with the Golden State Warriors. West, who also served as general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies from 2002 to 2007, joined the Clippers as a consultant in 2017.

Like most sports champions, his intensity and desire to win were overwhelming.

“The last time I won a championship was in the 12th grade,” West said after he scored 23 points in the 1972 finals as the Lakers beat the Knicks 114-100 to win the series. He added: “This is a fantastic feeling. This is one summer I’m really going to enjoy.”

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West lacked speed and his ball-handling skills were not elite. But he was very quick with a silky-smooth motion that was beautiful to watch.

It is his silhouette on the NBA logo.

Those were great Lakers teams with Elgin Baylor at forward, lefty dead-eye Gail Goodrich at the other guard, and at the end of West’s career, Wilt Chamberlain at center. Those Lakers-Celtics series were as compelling and competitive as the Magic-Bird finals in the ’80s. 

“If it comes down to one shot,” West said once, “I like to shoot the ball. I don’t worry about it. If it doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in.”

That’s why he was known as the best clutch player of his generation.

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