Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon Review

Biographer Roland Lazenby describes Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West as "the most influential figure in the history of American basketball." Lazenby takes on the task of trying to explain the "mystery that is Jerry West."

Lazenby was told that to understand West, he needed to understand West Virginia, where West was born and raised and played for the University of West Virginia. Lazenby spends the first 75 pages, detailing the history of West Virginia, exploring West's ancestry and interviewing many of his family members, relatives and boyhood friends. While this does help to explain West, I'm afraid it's about 50 pages too long for many readers.

But, by the time you finish this nearly 400-page biography, you'll have completely forgotten about the book's slow start.

Lazenby achieves his goal of explaining the mystery of Jerry West. Jerry's mother was a perfectionist, who was a loner and shy. Jerry, who had little relationship with his abusive father, took after his mother. He was also deeply affected by the death of his older brother in the Korean War.

West was never able to enjoy his accomplishments. Nothing he ever did was good enough. Instead, he settled for disappointment, harsh criticism or perceived slights by others. He would go through long periods of depression when he wasn't playing well. He was extremely competitive, had more heart than any other player, obsessed with winning and driven to greatness. He was humble, shy and reserved.

Lazenby says West's rise to the top of basketball was "absolutely improbable." West was physically frail through high school, college and much of his NBA career. As an NBA rookie he was 6-foot-3 and 172 pounds. Coach Bill Sharman called West, known as Mr. Clutch, "the tallest 6-foot-3 player ever." Sharman also felt West was "probably the greatest defensive guard ever."

Lazenby gives a good account of West's high school and college basketball careers, particularly the rivalry between West and Oscar Robertson of the University of Cincinnati to be considered the best college player in the nation. The book is equally divided between West's pre-NBA years and NBA career.

West's heroics and heartbreaks in the NBA, losing year after year to the Boston Celtics for the championship, are well chronicled. West and the Lakers finally won a championship in 1972, beating the New York Knicks. Lazenby points out that if West had scored a total of 10 more points in five games, he would have had an NCAA title and four NBA titles.

After his playing days, West served three unhappy years as the Lakers coach and then became their successful general manager.

This is an insightful biography about one of the NBA's greatest players ever. It should be on every basketball fan's "must-read" list.

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon Feature

  • ISBN13: 9780345510839
  • Condition: New
  • Notes: BRAND NEW FROM PUBLISHER! BUY WITH CONFIDENCE, Over one million books sold! 98% Positive feedback. Compare our books, prices and service to the competition. 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon Overview

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. 

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