The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon
ESPN, Hardcover, 9780345510839, 448pp.
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
When in 1969 the NBA sought an emblem for the league, one man was chosen above all as the icon of his sport: Jerry West. Silhouetted in white against a red-and-blue backdrop, West’s signature gait and left-handed dribble are still the NBA logo, seen on merchandise around the world.
In this marvelous book—the first biography of the basketball legend—award-winning reporter and author Roland Lazenby traces Jerry West’s brilliant career from the coalfields near Cabin Creek, West Virginia, to the bare-knuckled pre-expansion era of the NBA, from the Lakers’ Riley-Magic-Kareem Showtime era to Jackson–Kobe–Shaq teams of the early twenty-first century, and beyond.
But fame was not all glory.
Called “Mr. Clutch,” West was an incomparable talent—flawless on defense, possessing unmatched court vision, and the perfect jumper, unstoppable when the game was on the line. Beloved and respected by fans and fellow players alike, West was the centerpiece of Lakers teams that starred such players as Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, and he went on to nine NBA Finals. Yet in losing eight of those series, including six in a row to the detested Boston Celtics, West became as famous for his failures as for his triumphs. And that notoriety cast long shadows over West’s life on and off the court.
Yet as the author discovered through scores of exclusive interviews with West’s teammates, colleagues, and family members, West channeled the frustration of his darkest moments into a driving force that propelled his years as an executive. And in this capacity, the success that often eluded West on the court has enabled him to reach out to successive generations of players to enrich and shape the sport in immeasurable ways.
Though sometimes overshadowed by flashier peers on the court, Jerry West nevertheless stands out as the heart and soul of a league that, in fifty years, has metamorphosed from a regional sideshow into a global phenomenon. And in Jerry West, Roland Lazenby provides the ultimate story of a man who has done more to shape basketball than anyone on the planet.
“Going beyond the facade of the multifaceted NBA legend, Lazenby, a professor of journalism at Virginia Tech (The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers), examines West, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974. From the frail kid from West Virginia coal country through his rebellious youthful hoopster to the crowning of a pro sports icon, this entertaining biography explicates how West, a shy, introverted perfectionist, emerged as a fabled college star with the West Virginia Mountaineers, using his patented one-hand jumper, pushing himself with endless drills to change the fate of the pro ball leagues. Lazenby accurately captures the inner man, his quirks, his rituals, his competitiveness when West, “Mr. Clutch,” faces off with Bill Russell's Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain's 76-ers. Even when the topic is life after active duty in pro ball, this book continues as a great example of old school sports bio without tabloid muck, satisfying all fans.” —Publishers Weekly
“Jerry West is one of the best five or six basketball players who ever lived. However, his career paralleled the greatest winner in the history of team sports, Bill Russell. West’s Los Angeles Lakers lost to Russell’s Boston Celtics six times in the NBA finals, lending a Sisyphean context to West's playing career. It was only after Russell retired that West was able to win his single championship as a player. Later, as the Lakers’ general manager, he was able to build seven championship teams, but as related by Lazenby, longtime NBA writer and author of six previous basketball books, readers will conclude that West’s administrative championships did not compensate for the losses as a player. Lazenby reaches back into West’s hardscrabble West Virginia youth to provide a background for the hypercompetitive athlete to come. He incorporates contemporary interviews with West—and teammates, coaches, and rivals—as well those done through the years into a portrait that will mesmerize basketball fans who remember the man who became the model for the NBA’s ubiquitous logo. A thoughtful, serious biography of an athlete both blessed and cursed by talent and a competitive spirit.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“A superior account of one of American sports' most compelling, complicated figures…by turns, smart, beautifully reported, well-written and psychologically shrewd….Where this book breaks fascinating new ground is in its exploration of West's tormented perfectionism.”—Los Angeles Times