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NBA 75 Series: #19 Jerry West

Ranked at #19 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is a man who needs no introduction, as he is the NBA’s silhouette aka “The Logo” Jerry West, a fierce competitor, lethal scorer, tenacious defender, and one of the great leaders and ambassadors in the NBA’s rich history, being around the league for over 40 years as a player, general manager, and coach. West was born on May 28th, 1938, in Chelyan, West Virginia as the fifth of six kids to his mother, Cecil, and father, Howard. West had rough upbringing growing up in the south, as his father was physically abusive toward him as a child, which forced him to have a loaded shotgun with him as he slept as self-defense.

West also had a brother, David, who was killed in the Korean War, which caused him trauma and turned him into a shy, introverted person. He didn’t look the part of the making of an elite athlete, being very frail and weak that he needed to take vitamin injections to stay healthy, which prevented him from participating in sports early in his life. So how would a kid so physically limited become one of the greatest players in NBA history? Well, West’s work ethic was second to none, putting in countless hours shooting shots from all types of different angles and range.

Those hours shooting in the backyard would start to show at East Bank High School. It wouldn’t show immediately, as West was benched his freshman year by his coach Duke Shaver because of his lack of height. Shaver’s tough coaching on West helped him acknowledge the importance of defense and conditioning, which West surely appreciated. These lessons will help him become the leader of the freshman squad.

But, in the summer of 1953, West would grow to 6 feet tall (eventually getting to 6-foot-3) and would become one of West Virginia’s greatest players of all time, being named All-State in 1953-1956, and being named an All-American in 1956 while also being named West Virginia Player of the Year where he would become the first high school player to score 900 points in a season, averaging 32.2 points per game.

While West achieved such individual greatness, he would discover what would be a signature weapon for him throughout the rest of his playing days, the jumpshot. He would become a deadly shooter who had the defense on their toes at all times, helping lead East Bank to a state championship in 1956, and even got the school to change its name to West Bank High School on March 24th (the day they won the title) in honor of his greatness until the school closed down in 1999.

After a storied high school career at East Bank, West had a plethora of schools to choose from with over 60 universities wanting his services. He would choose to play his college basketball in his hometown for the West Virginia Mountaineers. As a freshman, West’s freshman squad went undefeated (17-0). In his first year on varsity (as a sophomore) West put up 17.8 points and 11.1 rebounds on nearly 50% from the field and 73% from the foul line. These will help him be recognized as an All-American, Southern Conference Tournament MVP, earn First Team honors, and numerous others.

West would continue to elevate his game as a junior, averaging 26.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He tied the NCAA tournament record of 160 points on an absurd 32 points per game, leading in scoring and rebounding in all of the games. He would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1959 Final Four despite his team losing in a gutwrencher to California, 71-70, in which West scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

He would be named Player of the Year, Athlete of the Year, All-American, and so forth that season. In West’s final year as a Mountaineer he put up monstrous averages of 29.3 points on 50%f from the field, grabbed 16.5 rebounds, and dished out 134 assists that season. He would be named South Conference MVP and an All-American. West arguably had the best game of his career against their town rival, Virginia, in which he scored 40 points and garnered 16 rebounds.

West finished with 30 double-doubles, fifteen 30+ point games, and even became a co-captain of the 1960 U.S. men’s olympic basketball team that won the gold medal that summer that included his counterpart Oscar Robertson as well. For his collegiate career, West finished with averages of 24.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, totaling 2,309 points, and 1,240 rebounds.

He would go on to be the second overall pick in the 1960 NBA Draft by the then Minneapolis Lakers (later relocating to Los Angeles Lakers). West was the Lakers first pick of the new relocated Lakers. The Lakers sure wouldn’t forget it, as West would become known as “The Logo” and “Mr.Clutch.” Combine a deadly jump shot, tenacious defense, obsessive perfectionism, unabashed confidence, and an uncompromising will to win, and you’ve got Jerry West, one of the greatest guards in NBA history. Playing his whole career with the storied Los Angeles Laker franchise, West became an NBA champion(1972), Finals MVP (1969), 14-time All-Star, All-Star Game MVP (1972), a 12-time All-NBA selection, and five-time all-defensive selection. West also led the league in scoring (1970) and assists (1972).

He earned the nickname “Mr.Clutch” because of his ability to come through in the waning moments of the game. He reached the NBA Finals nine times but unfortunately lost several times to the Russell-led Celtics and once to the Willis Reed and Walt Frazier-led Knicks. He’s the only player to ever win Finals MVP on the losing team, as he did in 1969 and had a obsessive drive for perfection that we would later see in legends such as Jordan and Kobe.

He left the game in 1974 as the third highest career scorer, behind only Chamberlain and Robertson with 25,192 points in 932 career games. His average of 27.0 ppg game stands as the fourth highest among retired players, behind Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. After his retirement he would coach for a few seasons and would become the Lakers General Manager in 1982, helping to build the Lakers dynasty of the 1980s. He also was at the forefront of rebuilding the Lakers again after the Magic & Kareem era with signing Shaquille O’Neal in free agency in the summer of 1996 and trading for a brash young teenager from Lower Merion High School in the 1996 NBA Draft named Kobe Bryant. Those two players formed a nucleus that would win three straight titles.

He would also be named Executive of the Year in 1995 and showed you a great player can be successful in the front office as well.

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