Mr. Clutch

Jerry West's Lakers won only one NBA championship, but he still ranks as a roundball immortal.

Book Cover Although I have soured on professional sports (because as we all know, money changes everything), my memories of various experiences remain vividly cherished (sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers as teenager). I was still a fan when Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, and Dennis Johnson not only made the Celtics champions but were also prime exemplars of unselfish team play. Among other memories are occasional glimpses of the brilliant play of L.A. Lakers’ Hall of Fame guard Jerry West. Now comes ESPN basketball writer and fellow West Virginian Roland Lazanby’s biography, Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon (the first, by the way)

There is a small joke packed into the title as it is West’s left-handed profile (silhouetted in white against a red and blue backdrop) that is used for the National Basketball Association’s logo. For those who don’t know anything about the pre-Michael-Jordan-era NBA, Jerry West (aka, Mr. Clutch) was a round-ball superstar when there were only a handful of such. Though that alone would not recommend a comprehensive biography—there are, in my mind, only a handful of “must read” sports biographies (Larry Tye’s recent bio of Satchell Paige and Wil Haygood’s splendid account of “Sugar” Ray Robinson).

West, who hails from the unglamorous precincts (the coal fields) of Cabin Creek, West Virginia, was a high school, college basketball, and Olympian (1960 gold medal) champion, perennial NBA all-star (14 times), and championship finals participant (West’s Lakers managed to win one of nine). He went on to oversee the great Lakers teams with Ervin Johnson, up to Kobe Bryant, and the hiring of Phil Jackson. In 2002 he moved on to a brief stint with the NBA’s Memphis outlet, the Grizzlies, retiring in 2007.

Basketball has not yielded many resonant stories (John Feinstein’s The Fight, and Pete Axthelm’s The City Game come to mind). Lazenby’s account of a true sport icon is one.
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