Toluca Lake, Calif- It’s not every day you get to stare into the eyes of a legend. But sure enough, there I was. Standing in the presence of ‘The Logo’. The man whose imagination would fill my head at bedtime with images of impossible shots going down at the Forum. A man who not only had a god given talent for the game of basketball but who understands the true essence of human character, Jerry West.
I wanted to share the two hours I got to spend with West because it is important to understand just who he is. If West is remembered for having only been a basketball player and architect of great teams, that will be the truest shame of all. Instead I want to share the person I met whose aura goes beyond the short shorts, 60 foot shots at the buzzer and slick haircut.
At 81 years old West’s mind is still sharp as iron. He stands with the type of posture at 6 feet 6 inches that made himself one of the most imposing players of his era. He is quiet, does not like attention and is observant of every detail. Everything from the clothes on your back, your mannerisms and details you may not see yourself.
The only thing I knew about West was that he is the ultimate competitor. He hates to lose more then anything. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise when West took a front office job with the once laughable Los Angeles Clippers and helped created the greatest duo in their franchise history by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
But instead of gloating about stealing the thunder from the Buss family and the Lakers, he offered something more to the 60-or-so people in attendance at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake. He gave the crowd a cleansing reality on how we should be as people.
West began by saying that the only person he ever hated was his father. A man who he said was uneducated and used to beat him on an almost daily basis as a child. His father never came to any of his games and West said he didn’t want him there. “A devil” as West called it, that drove him to great lengths. The game of basketball was something that he could control and carve his own identity as not only a player, but he would be the broadcaster and the referee. Not sure who he rooted for as a kid from Kanawha, West Virginia or who he listened to. I would sure like to know.
Closing my eyes and looking back on my own memories, I related to West. My father was not physically abusive, but he used intimidation and deception that would often have me second guessing my own identity. He once told me I would never be happy if I chose to live my life as a sports reporter or broadcaster. West found his solace in the form of an orange round ball. I found mine in the box scores in the LA Daily News and LA Times; in the sounds of Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, Al Michaels, Stuart Scott, Shelley Smith, Hannah Storm and Tom Tolbert; and the columns written by Bill Plaschke and Bill Dwyre.
Reflecting on West’s words, there is something to be said about having a devil in our lives. Something or someone so vile and cruel that we choose to run from it completely to obliterate obstacles and find courage. His courage was working harder then anyone to achieve goals and working immensely harder even after those accomplishments failed to be recognized.
The beauty of West’s words and teachings wasn’t only about overcoming adversity, but to look around and count blessings that become such a part of our own fabric, we fail to recognize them.
After his speech was over, a woman came up to me and my Smack Talc co-host Paul Pratt and said she felt cleansed spiritually from Jerry West’s speech. She was absolutely right. This wasn’t Jerry West the basketball player, this was Jerry West the mentor and friend. He spoke to each one of us individually. How to not only make our own lives but the people around us better. People we don’t think about that often but have the greatest impact on us like our parents, our brothers and sisters. “Work for a cause, not applause,” West said. Be in constant communication with the people who care about you the most (texts don’t count).
When I got the invitation to see West, I was thinking that he was going to fill the crowd with inside information about the Clippers and how they planned on trying to destroy LeBron James and Anthony Davis should the two teams meet in the playoffs. He might think that and that’s because West hates to lose more then he likes to win. But that’s not I got. Instead I got the Jerry West who made me a better person.
Written by Ethan Hanson