JERRY WEST … LAKERS GENERAL MANAGER: 4 NBA TITLES … NBA HALL OF FAME, 1980 … AVERAGED 29.1 POINTS PER GAME IN 153 NBA PLAYOFF GAMES … LOS ANGELES LAKERS, 1960 1974, WINNING CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1972 … CAPTAIN, U.S. OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNING BASKETBALL TEAM, 1960 … NCAA CHAMPION, TOURNAMENT MVP, 1959 Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up. RED A UERBA CH, legendary Boston Celtics coach and general manager JERRY WEST 15 Istarted playing basketball when I was seven or eight on a dirt court in front of my house, and I’ve never really stopped. As a kid I was bored and needed something that would challenge me. It was great, because I could see progress, even at a young age. THE POWER OF THE MIND As I got older, I would always go to watch the upperclassmen play at what would eventually be my high school. My mind would wander and I would see myself playing, visualizing myself making the last shot to win a game.
It was the beginning of goal-setting for me, and it let me know the power of my mind and of my imagination. I have always been a bit of a loner and this was a game where you could work alone, drilling yourself on the things that would make you a better player. I didn’t have a great home life, so I could just go outside and escape. JUNIOR HIGH I wanted to play in junior high, but I was so small and timid, I just couldn’t seem to get myself on the court. But that didn’t stop me from playing and trying to become a better player. I wasn’t even dreaming about going pro, I just wanted to get better. And I did begin to improve. HIGH SCHOOL HEIGHT I got to high school and suddenly I just shot up, going from this little kid to a tall, gangly kid. I was brought up from JV to varsity and people began to notice. I went down one last time to play JV and then rejoin the varsity, but I broke my foot. Through it all, I wouldn’t stop playing. In fact, I broke about six casts because I kept shooting baskets. REVEALING MR. CLUTCH I started my junior year, but our team was not very good. I was tall at 6’3″, but I only weighed one hundred sixty pounds. My senior year was the coming-out party. We won the state championships.
I set scoring and re- 16 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME bounding records in the tournament, and my life changed. I was recruited from all over the country, but I only wanted to go to West Virginia University, so that’s where I went. What mattered to me most was going out to that dirt court, imagining hitting the last shot, playing as if I were on every team, playing every position on the court. I wanted the ball at the end of every game. I was never nervous, because countless times in my head I already imagined what it was like to take and hit the last shot. Whether it was in my team gym, on my dirt court, or through the coat hanger hanging on my door, I always felt like I had been in pressure situations because of my vivid imagination. ALMOST WINNING IT ALL No one took losing as hard as Jerry West. CHICK HEARN, longtime Lakers announcer At times, I almost feel like my career was a failure because we did not win more NBA titles than we did. There were at least two times where I know we were the better team and we didn’t win. Ironically, when I played my worst, we won, and that was against the New York Knicks. I noticed at that time how differently people treated you after you win, and it soured me because I saw how fickle people are. I know what it’s like to fail, but I also know what it’s like to get up and try to achieve your goal. As much as I take pride in trying, I am still not over those losses, even today.
FINAL THOUGHTS I’ve never been driven by my ego. I have been driven by my desire. JERRY WEST My imagination brought me this success, and I also had an internal belief that I was going to be the best player I could be. Fear of failure drove me. I just couldn’t accept losing, nor did I want to visualize it. My family never pushed me to do anything in sports. It all came from me. I didn’t do JERRY WEST 17 it to be rich or famous or to go pro. I just wanted to be the best player I could be. Even today, I do not like seeing my name in the paper and do not like talking about myself. I do not take myself seriously; I take what I do seriously. My goals are simple, and the last three years they have been exactly the same: try to be a better person than I was last year and give more of myself personally. I want the people I work with to know I care about them, and I want to see them move forward. That’s what I try to do. FINAL, FINAL THOUGHTS Sports teaches you more about life than any other job you could have.
Sports, like life, is a marathon, not a sprint. You know you’re going to have bad injuries and terrible losses, but you have to keep marching and keep your eye on the big picture. As an athlete, I’ve learned to be resilient and to overcome adversity. And if you ever lose your competitive edge, just hang it up. I never worked for money, only to compete and to win. MY WRAP What Jerry West has done in basketball is just about more then anyone else in NBA history. West was one of the best players, coaches, and general managers of all time. He’s another example for those who think you can make it on talent alone. It’s all about the practice time alone and the intensity you show to make yourself better. If Jerry West says he learns about life and sports every day, don’t you ever think school’s out and that you know enough.
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