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West leaves the game not riding off into the sunset but sneaking off into the darkness. The question remains what is really on Jerry West's mind? - winestem photo

 

Sports Notes - LAKERS JERRY WEST QUITS... Chasing Celtics Ghosts

James Loving - National Radio Text Service

 

When the Lakers played the Indiana Pacers in last season's finals West didn't attend the games. On the day when the team won their first title in 12 years West was riding around in his car in his Bel Air neighborhood. He was not listening to the game on the radio. A friend informed of the victory via cell phone. West also chose not to be present for his retirement press conference.

 

Monday July 3, 2000

JERRY WEST... BURNED OUT

The Los Angeles Lakers GM/VP JERRY WEST quit last week thus putting to an end of his 40-year stint in the Lakers organization and his quest of chasing the Boston Celtic's ghosts. During that time West seemed to be possessed by demons that affected his super hyper, paranoid, whining personality. Recognized as one of the greatest NBA players ever, West constantly came up short of attaining his peace of mind. As a player he was not able to defeat the Boston Celtics in six title games. Being second banana was something West endured many times during his basketball career.

West was a member of the University of West Virginia University basketball team. They were a superior squad when they faced California in the 1959 NCAA finals. California defeated the Mountaineers. West lost in the championship game but scorched the nets with 160 points in his five NCAA tournament contests. West won the tournament's MVP award.

West then was selected to be a member of the 1960 United States Olympic team that went on to win the Gold medal in Rome. His teammates included Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas and Terry Dischinger.

Hollywood adored the fair hared boy who was the Lakers first draft choice in 1960 after they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 6-2 guard was the leagues second overall NBA draft pick finishing behind Oscar Robertson. The then Hollywood movie stars such Doris Day flocked to the Los Angeles Sports Arena to see the new Los Angeles NBA team and their good looking hillbilly glamour guy West.

Teamed with superstar Elgin Baylor the Lakers began their dominance of the Western conference by going to the finals in 1962. It would be the first of seven NBA finals appearances over the next nine years. During the 60's the Lakers faced the Celtics six times in the finals and lost EVERY TIME. West was called many things, "Mr. Clutch" being one of them. The demons seemed to be at work every time the Lakers met the Celtics in the finals.

The final straw was the 1969 finals. The Lakers had added NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain to their roster that year to compliment the talents of Baylor and West. They were considered strong favorites to win the title. They had it all with three of the greatest players of all time playing on the same squad. They had Mr. Outside in West, Mr. Inside in Chamberlain and Mr. In Between in Baylor. They had the talent to go and do whatever they wanted.

That season the Lakers finished at the top of the Western Division with a 55-27 regular season record, seven games in front of the second place Atlanta Hawks. The Celtics 48-34 regular season record was only good enough for a 4th place finish in the East nine games behind the first place Baltimore Bullets.

When the playoffs began the Celtics had strong eastern conference series performances to reach the NBA finals and their match-up with the Lakers. In the first round the Celtics eliminated the Philadelphia 76rs in five games. In the Eastern Conference finals they knocked off the New York Knicks in six games.

For the title game the then Lakers owner Jack Kent Cook had balloons in the rafters of the Los Angeles Forum and post victory itineraries on every seat to celebrate the Lakers anticipated victory.

The Celtics showed their mastery over the Lakers again by winning the championship in seven games. They had to overcome a 3-2 game deficit in the series to do so. The balloons were wasted and West was pissed.

"Most of the years we played [the Celtics] they were better than we were but in 1969 they were not better. Period." NBA.com reported West as saying. "I don't care how many times we played it they weren't better. We were better and we didn't win. And that was the toughest one."

The irony again was that though the Celtics won the title West received the finals MVP award. It is only time in NBA history that a player from the losing team has won the award. It is a general consensus among NBA players that winning a MVP award is not as rewarding as winning a NBA championship.

NBA.com reported that West felt he was deserving of winning the league's MVP award several times but didn't. The winner of the NBA finals MVP award was to receive a car. West was given a CELTIC GREEN car. "A cruel joke," West said of the award.

'Zeke from Cabin Creek' as he was also known, finally won his first and only NBA championship ring as a player with the 1971-72 Lakers. They defeated the New York Knickerbockers. They avenged losing the title to the Knicks in 1970. Again, Celtic revenge eluded him this was only the Knicks. The championship came just three weeks prior to his 34th birthday. West was finishing his 11th NBA season and was not pleased about his 8th of his soon to be nine NBA finals playoff performances.

"I played terrible basketball in the finals, and we won," West said. "That didn't seem to be justice for me personally, because I had contributed so much in other years when we lost. Now when we when we won, I was just another piece of machinery. And after all of those disappointments, once we won I was like, 'Is that all there is?'

He retired from the NBA as a player after the 1972-73 season in which the Lakers lost again to the Knicks in the finals. He was out of the game entirely for two years. West was intense and said of his NBA playing career, "I don't think I ever smiled in a basketball game. To me it was a matter of life and death."

Though he could only win the NBA title once in nine tries West still holds the NBA record for points per game average in a playoff series. He averaged 46.3 a game [49-52-44-48-43-42] over a six game series with the Baltimore Bullets in 1965. Michael Jordan's 45.2 average vs Cleveland in 1988 is the NBA's second best.

West's career scoring best was a 63-point game against the Knicks in 1963. He finished his NBA playing career scoring 25,192 points and was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1979.

He returned as the Lakers coach in 1976. The best he could do was to have his team reach the semi-finals once during his three-year tenure and compiled a 145-101 record. He then became a consultant to the Lakers from 1979-80 through 1981-82.

West became the team's General Manager for the 1982-83 season. The Lakers were already a solid squad with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson as the foundation and key members. They had already won two NBA championships 1980, 1982 without West as GM, when he was only a consultant to the team.

The prostituting cheer leading LA press has given West credit as having BUILT the championship Lakers of the 80's. Lakers then owner Jack Kent Cook had already done that by having signed Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson…NOT West. He did not draft James Worthy. West inherited then Lakers coach Pat Riley so there were no big Jerry West deals there. So much for clouded issues. He became the GM for the 1982-83 season and was at the helm for four Lakers NBA title teams.

As great as a player West was he was truly overrated by the LA press as being the NBA's best ever executive. The Boston Celtics former coach/GM/president RED AUERBACH was a part of 16 NBA titles… West ONLY seven, if you were to count the two while he was only a consultant.

I'll always remember West as a whiner, complainer, eccentric and a paranoid individual. I've seen him play since he was a rookie in the NBA. Who would have thought that I would meet him 30 years later. Like they say, What goes around comes around.

Throughout the years West grew his reputation as someone who was ready to crack and mentally lose it all, a borderline basket case. He often broke down and cried at press conferences. He seemed seldom happy and usually on the edge.

Former Celtic great Bill Russell [the player/coach of the 69 Celtic team] made a profound statement to West at testimonial the Lakers organized near the end of Zeke's career. Russell even went as far as to pay for his own air ticket to attend the event. If anyone was most responsible for West's Lakers teams losing the big NBA finals games to the Celtics it was Russell.

"If I could have one wish granted, " Russell said to West at the affair, "It would be that you would always be happy."

Just as West, as a player, never beat the Celtics in the finals it seems Russell never got his wish for West to be always happy. West went on to become a tormented executive win or lose. As the Lakers GM West faced the Celtics three times [1984-85-87] winning twice 1985, 1987. That set the count at seven championships for the Celtics and two championships for the West associated Lakers.

Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Heisler, who was a previous Lakers beat writer, wrote about a 1990 experience with West. Heisler asked West if he wanted to go on record regarding a statement he made about then Lakers center Vlade Divac. "Who is this again?" West asked.

I experienced a similar excited overreaction when I interviewed West at the beginning of my radio career. It was my first face to face interview with him. I was shocked at his behavior. It seemed that West was never at peace with himself nor comfortable in his own skin...accomplishments or not.

Heisler noted in his column that West was strung like a violin so tight that a puff of air could produce a high C.

When the Lakers played the Indiana Pacers in last season's finals West didn't attend the games. On the day when the team won their first title in 12 years West was riding around in his car in his Bel Air neighborhood. He was not listening to the game on the radio. A friend informed of the victory via cell phone. West also chose not to be present for his retirement press conference.

No question West swung two of the most notable and important trades in NBA history. When he traded the Charlotte Hornets for high school star Kobe Bryant on July 11, 1996, West had a vision that few could see. Quite frankly this reporter thought he was nuts by trading Vlade Divac for an unproved high school kid.

After the signing of Bryant West spoke at a Southern California Broadcasters Association luncheon. West told those of us in attendance that he made the choice simply because Bryant outplayed all of the other players in tryouts. Bryant's emergence as a NBA star proved his vision correct.

He pulled another master deal by signing then free agent Shaquille O'Neal on July 18, 1996. Those two players were the main ingredients in the Lakers 2000 NBA championship season. It would turn out to be West's last [for now]. West walked away from three years remaining on his $3.5 million a year contract.

West leaves the game not riding off into the sunset [ see: Dick Vermeil ] but sneaking off into the darkness. The question remains what is really on Jerry West's mind? It's as if his striving for perfection has tormented his life.

Whatever demons possess Jerry West and whatever he may be looking for he will probably never rid himself of chasing… those Celtics Ghosts.

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