Monday, August 6, 2007

West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life

[This post was published on October 26, 2011 but backdated.]

Jerry West's autobiography showcases a man of pure class and professionalism.  I've summarized parts of the book I found most interesting below. 

West grew up poor in West Virginia, the fifth of six children. He had a distant mother plagued by her husband's infidelity and a father who was abusive towards West and his siblings. West writes that his dislike of authority figures probably comes from his father. At the same time, West has a non-confrontational personality due to his shyness.

Jack Nicholson describes West as "fierce, frank, but very fragile."

West suffers from depression and atrial fibrillation. He takes Coumadin and Xanax for the atrial fibrillation and Prozac for the depression.

Two interesting quotes: "The coal industry and its lobbyists have run West Virginia for years, and it depresses me that education is not the first priority." (page 28)

"I have a coal -mining, company-store mentality, born out of the state we both grew up in: that if you are doing well, the company will reward you. But there's no point in asking because it would be un-Southern and ungracious, and besides, they have all the power anyway."

West voted for Obama. West dislikes Jesse Jackson. His hero is James Brown, who also wore #44.

Cooke, the Lakers' owner before Buss, was apparently a pompous arse. One example: he called John Wooden to his home to ask him to coach the Lakers, even though Wooden had insisted beforehand he would not leave UCLA. Nevertheless, Cooke wrote a number on a piece of paper and slid it over to Wooden. Wooden looked at it and said, "No coach is worth this amount of money." Cooke immediately told Wooden to get out of his house. 

West pulled a "Barry Bonds"--he surprised his second wife with a prenup shortly before the wedding day, primarily because his first marriage (he married too young) had ended badly and expensively. He is still married to his second wife, Karen.

West on Kobe Bryant, the player he recruited, with the help of Arn Tellum: "Kobe was young and immature. He had a showboat style and a bottomless reservoir of drive that fueled him; he wasn't content just to beat people, he had to embarrass them, even players on his own team."

Although West views himself as a father figure to Kobe, Kobe chose not to participate in the book, unlike Kareem, Pat Riley, etc.

West thinks that Kobe was "set up" by the woman in Colorado who accused him of rape. When the incident occurred, Kobe sought out West for advice, even though West was working for Memphis at the time.

Phil Jackson told Jerry to get the eff out of the locker room after a game. No one had ever told Jerry to get out of the Lakers locker room before, and that incident strained an already tense relationship. When Phil first joined the Lakers, West felt that Phil deliberately ignored him.  Jackson apparently wouldn't even say hello as he walked by West's office.

Basically, Phil had already won six championships when he joined the Lakers, had just come from a situation in Chicago where he and the GM had clashed, and had no need for West's advice or input. As Mitch Kupchak says, "Phil didn't need Jerry's advice and wouldn't have wanted it anyway."

At the end of the day, West didn't leave the Lakers solely because of Phil--there were many reasons, including Buss's increasing separation from the team once they moved to Staples Center, as well as Glen Rice's back-handed salary negotiations.

West praises Kurt Rambis both in personal and professional terms. He also says that Kurt was responsible for the Showtime Lakers' success because of the quick way he would collect the ball, get out of bounds with one leg, and pass the ball to Magic to start the fast break. Magic agrees.

West participated in a strike where the players were demanding a pension plan. They succeeded.

West believes that the expansion of the NBA roster from 10 (the limit during his time) to 15 players allows non-NBA-caliber players to join the league.  These days, West says the additional three to five players basically serve as practice players, i.e., players who are primarily utilized to challenge teammates during practice.  He seems to say that we should either reduce the roster size or the number of teams.  He believes the higher number of teams harms the ability of small market teams to compete against larger market teams.  Ironically, West indicates that Pat Riley--whose work ethic was exceptional--may have been in the category of a practice player.  Given Riley's success as a coach, one wonders whether a modern-day version of a Pat Riley would still be able to get his start in the NBA today, especially if it had smaller rosters or fewer teams.

Some final notes: 1) Jerry's brother, David, died in the Korean War when Jerry was a boy. David was apparently the family's favorite. David's death probably gave Jerry a kind of survivor's guilt, which, coupled with his abusive father, led to his depression; 2) despite being asked to contribute some thoughts to the book, Kobe did not do so, which "shocked" West; 3) West continues to be plagued by the six times the Celtics beat his Lakers in the Finals, even though West won the championship in 1972; his Lakers team continues to hold the longest active winning streak in professional sports (33 games); and he won a gold medal in 1960, his most prized possession); 4) West claims he didn't give away Pau Gasol to the Lakers out of favoritism but because the owner of the Grizzlies wanted to save money; 5) one of the pictures in the book is of Riley with a mustache--it's hilarious; and 6) at the end of the book, West included a touching comment to his wife of "33 years (and counting)": "It has not always been smooth, I know that, but I am grateful that you stayed in the game."

Mr. West, on behalf of NBA fans everywhere, thank you for "staying in the game."

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