Jerry West is the logo of the league. In the 1960s, he repeatedly challenged the Boston Celtics dynasty with Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers, and tragically lost time and again. Only late in his career came redemption. Even without the title, West would have gone down in history as one of the best and most feared players. Yesterday, Mr. Clutch celebrated his 81st birthday.
“Jerry, success is a long journey, but the biggest compliment a man can get is the respect of his peers.” It was 1971 and Jerry West Night in the LA Forum. Celtics legend and coach Bill Russell talked about one of the biggest competitors of his time. “You have more than enough respect, you are a true champion, my wish is that you are happy forever.”
It was the story of one of the most respected players of the 60s. Only one title had not been granted to the slender, white Shooting Guard. Seven finals reached his Los Angeles Lakers, six times alone were the Boston Celtics with Russell, the opponent. All six were lost more or less dramatically.
“It hurt that I could never beat them, no matter how well I played, it never seemed enough,” West later looked back on his numerous duels with Red Auerbach’s Celtics. West was the player who had worked his skills hard and made up for his deficits with boundless will and ambition.
Although West put on average over 27.0 points, no one would have benefited in this era of three more than the Lakers legend. As was the case with Pete Maravich, the shooting guard was far ahead of basketball development. “Jerry West was for me Michael Jordan 20 years ahead of Jordan,” Celtics forward Tommy Heinsohn ennobled the rival.
In the fall of his career, West was converted to point guard by new coach Bill Sharman. For success, the best shooter in the league sacrificed his scoring and became the floor general. With hard defense and fast breaks, the Lakers won in 1971/72 33 games in series. LA admired Showtime long before Magic took over a Lakers jersey.
At the end of the year, it was finally the time. The Lakers rolled over the Knicks in five games in the NBA finals. After eight finals he lost, West finally got his ring. “It was a nice feeling, but it never replaced the pain of defeat before,” the suffering plague explained years later. Instead of celebrating, he preferred to attend a boxing match.
Despite losing eight finals, the basketball world is still reminiscent of Mr. Clutch, one of the most feared players in history. “I’m surprised if the ball does not go in the basket, I think I should sink every shot,” claimed West. He had the mindset of a champion and led a Lakers team almost several times almost into the Promised Land – had it not been for the invincible Celtics, studded with five Hall-of-Famers.
It speaks for itself that above all the archrival of the east coast spoke only in highest tones of the Sharpshooter. “Looking back on my career, I only regret that I never had the chance to coach Jerry West,” ennobled Auerbach. There is no greater compliment – even if Jerry West sees it differently.