Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU and NBA legend Jerry West dies at 86

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia legend and NBA all-time great Jerry West died Wednesday at the age of 86.

He had been working as an advisor in the front office of the Los Angeles Clippers since 2017. The team officially announced West’s passing, saying his wife, Karen, was by his side at the time of his death.

He was “the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him,” the Clippers said.

His name is synonymous throughout basketball from his college days at WVU, where he guided the Mountaineers to the 1959 national championship game, on through his 14 years playing with the Los Angeles Lakers and then as an executive with the Lakers and several other NBA franchises.

“I was just looking at a picture the other day of our freshmen team in 1956,” said Jay Jacobs, a teammate of West at WVU. “I thought at the time we still had four guys left from that team still alive.

“I never would have thought Jerry would have been the first to go of those four. He was in great shape. He hit golf balls every day. He was an avid golfer. It’s just really a sad, sad day.”

West became so iconic during his NBA days that his silhouette became the basis of the league’s logo.

“There is a great sadness over me,” Jacobs continued. “The logo is no more.”

West, nicknamed “Mr. Clutch,” will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame for a third time later this year.

He was an inducted as a player in 1980, and then as a member of the 1960 men’s Olympic team in 2010. In October, he will be inducted for his contributions to the game as an NBA executive.

“As the basketball world mourns the man known simply as ‘The Logo,’ I join all West Virginians and members of the West Virginia University family in remembering a true legend,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said. “There will never be another Jerry West. From his time as a record-breaking basketball player in the WVU Field House to his success in the front offices of some of the most respected sports franchises in America, Jerry brought his unique abilities, innovative spirit and quiet strength — the very best of what it means to be a Mountaineer.”

A native of Chelyan in Kanawha County, West was a Hall of Famer at several levels.

At WVU, he guided the Mountaineers to the 1959 national title game, losing by one point against California, a loss that still haunted him well after his NBA career was complete.

“I always question myself if I had done everything I could to win that game,” West once said during a Bob Huggins Fantasy Camp. “That was a loss that I’ll never get over, something that will eat at me for the rest of my life.”

He is WVU’s all-time leading scorer with 2,309 points and his 1,240 career rebounds is also a school record. West amassed those totals in just three seasons, because freshmen weren’t permitted to play on the varsity team in the 1950s.

He was the No. 2 overall pick of the 1960 NBA Draft, going to the Minneapolis Lakers, who soon moved to Los Angeles after the draft.

West played his entire 14-year career with the Lakers, with all 14 seasons spent as an All-Star.

He guided the Lakers to nine NBA Finals — he was the MVP of the 1969 finals as a member of the losing team — while winning the championship in 1972.

He is still the all-time leading scorer in NBA Finals history with 1,679 points and his 31 games of 30 or more points in the finals is a record.

Yet it was the losses that stuck with him, not the records and honors.

“I have a hole in my heart, a hole that can never be filled,” West wrote is his 2011 autobiography, “West by West: My Charmed and Tormented Life.”

In 1969, the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in seven games for the championship. West averaged 37.9 points and 7.4 assists per game in those finals to become the only player from a losing team to ever be named MVP, a fact he said years later only tormented him more.

After retiring as a player in 1974 at the age of 35, West went on to become the Lakers’ head coach and eventually moved into the front office as the team’s general manager.

He helped build a dynasty by drafting Magic Johnson in 1979 and teamed him up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980s.

A decade later, he traded for Shaquille O’Neal and then traded for high-school prospect Kobe Bryant during the 1996 NBA Draft.

With West as an executive for 18 years, L.A. played in a total of eight NBA Finals and won four championships.

As a member of the Golden State Warriors’ front office in 2016, West played a pivotal role in signing Kevin Durant as a free agent, a move that led to the Warriors winning the 2017 championship.

West also worked in the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies.

“You know, it never ceases to amaze me the places you can go in this world chasing a bouncing ball,” West said in 2019, when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Donald Trump. “My chase began in Chelyan, West Virginia, where I strung a wire basket with no net to the side of a bridge. If your shot didn’t go in, the ball rolled down a long bank and you would be chasing it forever. So, you better make it.

“I was a dreamer. My family didn’t have much, but we had a clear view of the Appalachian Mountains, and I’d sit alone on our front porch and wonder, ‘If I ever make it to the top of that mountain, what will I see on the other side?’ Well, I did make it to the other side, and my dreams have come true. I’ve been able to see the sides, thanks to that bouncing ball.”

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