|Birth Day:||May 28, 1938|
|Birth Place:||Cheylan, United States|
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After leading East Bank High School to a West Virginia State Championship, the school changed its name to West Bank High School.
West was an outgoing and aggressive child in his youth. However, in 1951 his older brother, David, was killed in action in the Korean War, and the trauma turned West into a shy and introverted boy. He was so small, frail, and weak that he needed many vitamin injections from his doctor and was kept apart from children's sports, to prevent him from getting seriously injured. Growing up, West spent his days hunting and fishing, but his main activity was shooting at a basketball hoop that a neighbor had nailed to his storage shed. West spent days shooting baskets from every possible angle, ignoring mud and snow in the backyard, as well as his mother's whippings when he came home hours late for dinner; he played so often that the NBA acknowledged it as "obsessive".
West attended East Bank High School in East Bank, West Virginia from 1952 to 1956. During his first year, he was benched by his coach Duke Shaver due to his lack of height. Shaver emphasized the importance of conditioning and defense, which were lessons that the teenager appreciated. West soon became the captain of the freshman team, and during the summer of 1953 he grew to 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m). West eventually became the team's starting small forward, and he quickly established himself as one of the finest West Virginia high school players of his generation. He was named All-State from 1953 to 1956, then All-American in 1956 when he was West Virginia Player of the Year, becoming the state's first high-school player to score more than 900 points in a season, with an average of 32.2 points per game. West's mid-range jump shot became his trademark and he often used it to score while under pressure from opposing defenses. West led East Bank to a state championship on March 24 that year, prompting East Bank High School to change its name to "West Bank High School" every year on March 24 in honor of their basketball prodigy. This practice remained in effect until the school closed in 1999.
West graduated from East Bank High School in 1956, and more than 60 universities showed interest in him. He eventually chose to stay in his home state and attend West Virginia University (WVU), located in Morgantown. In his freshman year (1956–57), West was a member of the WVU freshman squad that achieved a perfect record of 17 wins without a loss over the course of the season; other team members included Jay Jacobs and Willie Akers. In his first varsity year under head coach Fred Schaus, West scored 17.8 points per game and averaged 11.1 rebounds; he also started in all 28 games while shooting 49.6% from the field and 73.2% from the free throw line. These performances earned him a multitude of honors, among them an All-American Third Team call-up; First Team All-Southern Conference; Southern Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player Award and First Team honors; Chuck Taylor–Converse Second-team All-American honors; and Associated Press and United Press International Third-team All-American honors. The Mountaineers went 26–2 that year, ending the season with a loss to Manhattan College in post-season tournament play.
West married his college sweetheart Martha Jane Kane in April 1960 in Morgantown; they divorced in 1976. They have three sons, David, Mark and Michael. Jerry married his current wife Karen in 1978. They have two sons, Ryan and Jonnie. Jonnie played guard for West's college team, the West Virginia Mountaineers and married professional golfer Michelle Wie in 2019.
In West's second NBA season, the Lakers could only make limited use of Baylor, who was called up by the U.S. Army Reserves and could play only 48 games. On January 17, 1962, West scored a career-high 63 points in a 129–121 win over the New York Knicks. However, West seamlessly took over the role of team leader and established himself as the main Lakers scorer, averaging 30.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, winning All-NBA First Team honors. West became known especially for hitting important late-game shots, and Lakers' announcer Chick Hearn named him "Mr. Clutch" a handle which stuck with West for his entire career.
The Lakers won 54 regular-season games and secured a first-round bye in the 1962 NBA Playoffs. They beat the Pistons four games to two to advance to the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. The teams split the first two games, and at the end of Game 3 in Los Angeles, West tied the game at 115. The Celtics' Sam Jones inbounded the ball at half-court with three seconds left. West stole the ball, raced upcourt, and converted a running layup as the buzzer sounded. The Celtics tied the series in Game 6 at three games apiece, and the teams headed to Boston for Game 7. For most of the game, the Lakers trailed, but West and Frank Selvy hit several clutch baskets and tied the game at 100. Selvy then missed an open 8-foot shot which would have won the Lakers their first title. Baylor's tip-in attempt was thwarted by Sam Jones. In overtime, Jones scored several clutch baskets to ensure a 110–107 win for the Celtics. The 1962 NBA finals would serve as the beginning of the greatest rivalry in NBA history
In the following 1964–65 NBA season, West averaged 31.0 points (at the time, a career-high), only surpassed by perennial scoring champion Wilt Chamberlain. After ending the regular season with 49 wins, L.A. played the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the 1965 NBA Playoffs, but then team captain Baylor suffered a career-threatening knee injury. West spectacularly took over Baylor's leading role, as he scored 49 points and willed the shocked Lakers to the win. In Game 2, Baltimore was unable to stop the Lakers guard, who scored 52 points, nearly half of L.A.'s total, in the 118–115 win. The Bullets took their two home games, despite West scoring 44 and 48 points respectively, but in the decisive Game 5 in L.A., the guard helped beat the Bullets with 42 points in a close 117–115 win. West averaged 46.3 points per game, a figure that is still an NBA record. However, in the 1965 NBA Finals, the Celtics easily beat the short-handed Lakers, 4–1. In Game 1, which Boston easily won, defensive Celtics guard K. C. Jones kept West to the only 26 points, and in Game 2, West scored 45 points, but Boston still won 129–123. In Game 3, West scored 49 points, and L.A. finally won a game, but in Games 4 and 5, the Lakers were beaten by double digits; in the last quarter of Game 5, West missed 14 of 15 shots and could not prevent yet another Celtics win. Still, the Lakers guard finished the playoffs with 40.6 points per game.
In the 1965–66 NBA season, West averaged a career-best 31.3 points, along with 7.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. He made an NBA record 840 free throws, and earned yet another pair of All-Star Team and All-NBA First Team nominations. Winning 45 games, the Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks in a close seven-game series, and yet again met the Boston Celtics in the 1966 NBA Finals. West was assisted by Baylor, who was a self-estimated "75 percent" of his pre-injury self, The two long-standing rivals split the first six games, with West's usual scoring dominance countered by Celtics forward John Havlicek, whose size and speed created serious mismatch problems for the Lakers. In Game 7, West and Baylor shot a combined three of 18 in the first half, and the Lakers fell far behind; L.A. willed themselves back to a close 95–93 with four seconds left, but the Celtics ran the clock out and the Lakers were denied yet again.
In the 1968 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls and the Warriors to set up yet another Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals; it was considered a match of size versus speed, as the Lakers had nobody to guard Celtics coach/center Bill Russell or forward John Havlicek close to the basket, but the Celtics in return had difficulties guarding prolific L.A. outside shooters Baylor, West and fellow guard Gail Goodrich. In Game 1, West only hit seven of 24 shots, and the Lakers lost 107–101, but L.A. evened out the series at two games each. But West, who had scored 38 points in a Game 4 win, had sprained his ankle and did not play at full strength the rest of the series. In Game 5, an injured West scored 35 points, but Boston won by three points. In Game 6, Havlicek shredded the Lakers with 40 points, and after yet another Finals loss to Boston, West commented that the Lakers lost two games they should have won: "We gave them the first game, and we gave them the fifth. But I take nothing from them... They're all that way on the Celtics, and you can't teach it."
On July 9, 1968, the Lakers made a trade that brought reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers to Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1968–69 NBA season. To get the center, the Lakers traded West's backcourt partner Archie Clark, starting center Darrall Imhoff and backup forward Jerry Chambers to Philadelphia. Coach Van Breda Kolff was concerned about the drain at the guard positions after losing Clark, and especially after losing Goodrich in the expansion draft to the Phoenix Suns. He only had diminutive, defensively weak Johnny Egan left next to West. While West himself got on well with the recruit, Chamberlain often argued with team captain Elgin Baylor and had a poor relationship with Van Breda Kolff. Van Breda Kolff pejoratively called Chamberlain "The Load", and later complained that Chamberlain was egotistical, never respected him, too often slacked off in practice and focused too much on his statistics. In return, the center blasted Van Breda Kolff as "the dumbest and worst coach ever". There was an altercation in which Chamberlain was about to punch Van Breda Kolff before Baylor had intervened. West was disturbed by locker room tension; used to playing on teams with good chemistry, his quality of play became erratic, and his scoring average of 25.9 points was his lowest since his rookie season. However, he made the Second Team of the inaugural All-Defensive Team.
In the 1969 NBA Playoffs, the 55-win Lakers defeated the Atlanta Hawks and the San Francisco Warriors, setting up the sixth finals series versus Boston in eight years. Before Game 1, West privately complained to Bill Russell of exhaustion, but then the Lakers guard scored 53 points on Boston in a close two-point win. L.A. also took Game 2, with West scoring 41 points. In Game 3, Russell opted to double-team West, and the guard's exhaustion began to show: West twice asked to be subbed for longer periods, and both times the Lakers fell back by double digits and finally lost by six points. Game 4 saw Celtics guard Sam Jones hit an off-balance buzzer beater to tie the series, but in Game 5, the Lakers struck back and won by 13 points; however, they suffered a major blow when West – who scored 39 points and by far led all players in scoring during the entire series – lunged for a meaningless late-game ball and seriously pulled his hamstring: it was immediately visible that the injury would not heal until the end of the series. A limping West scored 26 points in Game 6, but the Celtics won 99–90 with a strong Bill Russell, who held Chamberlain to only eight points in the entire game. In Game 7, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had put up thousands of balloons in the rafters of the Forum in Los Angeles. This display of arrogance motivated the Celtics and angered West. The Lakers trailed the entire game and were behind 91-76 after 3 quarters, but powered by a limping West, the Lakers closed the gap to 103–102 with two minutes to go and had the ball. But West committed costly turnovers and L.A. lost the game 108–106 despite a triple-double of 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists from West, who became the only recipient of the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award from the losing team. After the loss West was seen as the ultimate tragic hero: after the game, Bill Russell held his hand, and John Havlicek said: "I love you, Jerry".
West was an all-around combo guard who could take the playmaking roles of a point guard and score like a shooting guard, while being equally strong on offense and defense. He had a jump shot with a release the NBA lauded as "lightning quick", and was known for making baskets late in the game, earning him the nickname "Mr. Clutch". Having played forward early in his career, West was also a capable rebounder, and gifted with long arms, quick hands, and strong defensive instincts, West was also once described as one of the best ballhawks, man-to-man defenders and shot blockers among NBA guards: when the All-Defensive Teams were introduced in 1969, West made every one of them until his career ended in 1974. "He stole more than anybody, although they didn't keep records on it then", said Sharman. However, contemporaries were most impressed by West's work ethic, obsessively practicing and shooting and rarely being satisfied with himself.
In the 1969–70 NBA season under new coach Joe Mullaney, the Lakers' season began with a shock when Wilt Chamberlain seriously injured his knee and missed practically the whole regular season. As after Baylor's injury years before, West stepped into the void, leading the NBA in scoring average with 31.2 points per game, and averaging 4.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game, earning him his first of four All-Defensive First Team votes and another All-NBA First Team berth after two Second Team years. The Lakers won 46 games, and in the 1970 NBA Playoffs, they narrowly beat the Phoenix Suns in seven games and swept the Hawks in four, setting up the first NBA Finals between the Lakers and the rugged New York Knicks, led by Hall-of-Famers, such as Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Walt Frazier. L.A. and N.Y. split the first two games, with both games respectively decided by centers Reed and the still-hobbling Chamberlain. In Game 3, DeBusschere hit a mid-range jump shot with three seconds left to put the Knicks ahead 102–100, and the Lakers had no time-outs left. Chamberlain inbounded the ball to West, who raced past Walt Frazier and threw up a 60-foot shot. Frazier later commented: "The man's crazy. He looks determined. He thinks it's going in!" West incredibly connected, and this basket was later called one of the greatest moments ever by the NBA. As the three-point line had not been introduced yet, the shot just tied the game. In overtime, West, however, sprained his left hand and missed all five of his shots, and the Knicks won 111–108. In Game 4, the guard scored 37 points and 18 assists, and the Lakers won. However, more frustration awaited West in Game 5, when Reed pulled his thigh muscle and seemed out for the series; instead of capitalizing on a double-digit lead and reeling off an easy win, the Lakers committed 19 second-half turnovers, and the two main scorers Chamberlain and West shot the ball only three and two times, respectively, in the entire second half and lost 107–100 in what was called one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history. After Chamberlain scored 45 points and West 31 points plus 13 assists in a series-equalising 135-113 Lakers win, the Lakers seemed favorites prior to Game 7. However, West had also injured his right hand and received several manual injections, and Reed famously hobbled up court before Game 7: the Knicks center scored the first four points, and inspired his team to one of the most famous playoff upsets of all time. With his injured hands, West still hit nine of his 19 shots, but was outplayed by Walt Frazier, who scored 36 points and 19 assists and was credited with several crucial steals on Lakers guard Dick Garrett.
In the post-season, the Lakers defeated the Chicago Bulls in a four-game sweep, then went on to face the Milwaukee Bucks, and defeated them in six games. In the 1972 NBA Finals, the Lakers again met the New York Knicks. Although West suffered a terrible shooting slump during Games 1 and 2, the Lakers tied the series at one win each, and in Game 3, he scored 21 points and helped L.A. win Game 3. In this game, he now had scored 4,002 playoff points, which set an all-time NBA record. After winning Game 4 due to a superb outing from Wilt Chamberlain, West scored 23 points and dished out 9 assists in Game 5, thus he won the game. With that, West won his first-ever NBA title. West conceded that he had played a terrible series, and credited the team for the success. Years later he said "I played terrible basketball in the Finals, and we won... It was particularly frustrating because I was playing so poorly that the team overcame me. Maybe that's what a team is all about."
West was also regarded for his extreme mental toughness and his exemplary work ethic. The NBA described West as "obsessive perfectionism, unabashed confidence, and an uncompromising will to win... a level of intensity so high it could melt lead". Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn once said: "He took a loss harder than any player I've ever known. He would sit by himself and stare into space. A loss just ripped his guts out." Even before his sole championship in 1972, the Lakers held a "Jerry West Night", and eleven-time NBA champion and perennial rival Bill Russell appeared and said: "Jerry, you are, in every sense of the word, truly a champion... If I could have one wish granted, it would be that you would always be happy."
Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was known for having a keen eye identifying leadership and teaching qualities (he also gave Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson and Joe Gibbs their first managerial/head coaching positions), and asked West to coach and participate in player personnel decisions. In the 1976–77 season, West became coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. In three years, he led the Lakers and star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a 145–101 record, making the playoffs in all 3 seasons and reaching the Western Conference Finals once in 1977.
West ended his playing career with 14 All-Star, 12 All-NBA Team and five All-Defensive Team selections, and scored 25,192 points, 6,238 assists and 5,366 rebounds in 932 games, translating to an average of 27.0 points, 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. Among retired players, only Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain surpass his 27.0 points per game average. He led the Lakers in scoring in seven seasons, only Jordan had a higher career scoring average in the playoffs (33.5 versus 29.1). In 1979, West was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Lakers retired his No. 44 jersey in 1983. In March 2008, ESPN voted West the third greatest shooting guard of all time. As a coach, West led the Lakers into three consecutive playoff campaigns, and then went on to win seven NBA championships as a general manager, building the 1980s Lakers dynasty under coach Pat Riley and players Magic Johnson, Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy and the 2000s under coach Phil Jackson and players Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
In 2002, West became the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies. He explained his decision with the desire for exploring something new: "After being a part of the Laker's success for so many years, I have always wondered how it would be to build a winning franchise that has not experienced much success. I want to help make a difference." West's Memphis stint was not as spectacular as his Los Angeles stint, but he turned a franchise which was about to be sold into a reliable playoffs team, making few trades but getting the maximum from the players he had available (such as Pau Gasol, James Posey and Jason Williams) and signing coach Hubie Brown, who became Coach of the Year in 2004. West himself won his second NBA Executive of the Year Award in the same year. At age 69, West retired as a Grizzlies general manager in 2007 and turned over managing duties to Chris Wallace, from Buckhannon, West Virginia.
In the summer of 2000, the city of Morgantown, West Virginia, and West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood, dedicated the road outside of the West Virginia University Coliseum, "Jerry West Boulevard". The same road is shared on the south end of Morgantown with Don Knotts Boulevard, in honor of another WVU alumnus. Also, on November 26, 2005, his number 44 became the first basketball number to be retired by West Virginia University and on February 17, 2007, a bronze statue of him was honored outside of the WVU Coliseum. On February 17, 2011, a Jerry West statue was unveiled outside Staples Center at the Star Plaza in Los Angeles, California. Finally, the NBA logo itself is modeled after West's silhouette. On June 1, 2019, President Donald Trump announced West would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
On May 19, 2011, West joined the Golden State Warriors as an executive board member, reporting directly to new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. This role also came with an undisclosed minority ownership stake in the team. In 2015, the Warriors won their first championship in 40 years; the championship was the seventh earned by West while serving as a team executive. He earned his eighth in the 2016-2017 season.
In 2011, West and bestselling author Jonathan Coleman wrote a memoir entitled West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life. The book has had tremendous critical acclaim and became an instant New York Times bestseller. During an interview on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, West revealed that as a child he was the victim of physical abuse from his father and has suffered from depression ever since.
On June 14, 2017, West announced that he would go to the Los Angeles Clippers as an executive board member.
Currently, Jerry West is 85 years, 0 months and 8 days old. Jerry West will celebrate 86th birthday on a Tuesday 28th of May 2024.
Find out about Jerry West birthday activities in timeline view here.