How old is the NBA logo

NBA Legends Series - Jerry West: Why One of the Greatest Players of All Time sees himself as a loser

Jerry West is the league's logo. In the 1960s he competed repeatedly with Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics dynasty and lost again and again in tragic ways. Salvation followed late in his career. Even without the title, West would have gone down in history as one of the best and most feared players.

"Jerry, success is a long journey, but the greatest compliment a man can get is the respect of his colleagues." It was 1971 and Jerry West Night in the Los Angeles Forum. Celtics legend and coach Bill Russell spoke about one of his greatest 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 1960s. Only one title had not been granted to the slender, white shooting guard until then. His Los Angeles Lakers reached seven finals, six times against Russell's Boston Celtics. All seven were lost more or less dramatically.

"It hurt that I could never beat them. No matter how well I played, it never seemed to be enough," West later looked back on his numerous duels with the Celtics from Red Auerbach. West was a player who had worked hard for his skills and made up for his deficits with irrepressible will and ambition.

Jerry West: From West Virginia to Gold

As a teenager in rural West Virginia, he didn't make it onto the football or baseball selection teams, which is why he threw at baskets for days. In wind and weather or even in winter with gloves he would take jumpers and jumpers. He trained himself on his quick release. The last dribble was always done so hard that he could throw immediately. This didn't work that well at first and so the ball kept slamming into the boy's face.

But the effort paid off and West became a true college star, leading WVU to the NCAA Championship Finals. The tragedy was that this game was lost, even though West put up an average of 32 points during the tournament. In the same year West won something after all. With Oscar Robertson and West, the Americans won gold at the Olympic Games. Today, when talking about the 1960s US boys, they speak before the first edition of the Dream Team.

The NBA was of course aware of the white boy at the latest. The Lakers, who had just moved from Minneapolis to California, struck second in 1960. Especially at this time, however, with the exception of The Big O, the centers still dominated, also because there was no three-point line and guards were primarily supposed to bring the ball to their bigs.

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"He was Jordan, 20 years before Jordan"

Although West had an average of 27.0 points over the course of 14 years, no one would have benefited more from the three-point in this era than the Lakers legend. Like Pete Maravich later, the shooting guard was way ahead of the development of basketball. "For me, Jerry West was Michael Jordan, 20 years before Jordan," said Celtics forward Tommy Heinsohn, ennobling the rival.

Apart from the litter, none of the West's quality caught the eye. He was neither the fastest nor the strongest and his dribbling moves were less spectacular than those of an Oscar Robertson. Still, the NBA decided to use his silhouette as the league's logo. There is hardly a greater honor. In cooperation with Elgin Baylor (Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside), the Lakers regained relevance and became the equivalent of the Celtics in the east.

Kryptonite Boston

It just wouldn't work with the title. Auerbach's Celtics were ahead in four play-off games of the finals alone. Sometimes Baylor was hit, sometimes Sam Jones hit a wild buzzerbeater or Don Nelson sank a game winner with the top of the board. The Lakers have been the chronic loser for a decade.

Probably no one struck this perception more than West, who could not stand and accept defeat. In 1969 the big moment finally seemed to have come. West gave the Celtics 53 points in Game 1 of the Finals and Russell called it "the best clutch performance" he had ever seen. In addition to Mr. Clutch, Wilt Chamberlain was now on the team after he had been brought to the City of Angels the previous summer.

West injured his thigh in the course of the series, but L.A. got a seventh game in the home forum. It was arranged: Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke even had balloons with the print "Lakers World Champion" hung under the roof of the hall. "That made me mader than ever before. It was so disrespectful and ultimately the ultimate embarrassment for us," West said later. The Celtics of course won this game too. The balloons never reached the hall floor.

Subsequently, the inconsolable West was awarded the Finals MVP. This was and is unique in the history of the league. Mr. Clutch had an average of 38 points and in Game 7 with a hamstring torn without the injured Wilt made up a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter and played a triple-double - it was not enough.

"It was the horror. I wanted to end my career at that moment. It was a game of life and death for me and I didn't want to die again," West looked back later.