By Carrie Cousins
Jerry West represents the image of the NBA.
His likeness is the man on the icon for professional basketball.
He defines the sport for many, but basketball is just a part of the man who is a legend of the game.
“West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” is the perfect title for West’s memoir, which is climbing its way up the The New York Times best-sellers list.
From a poor family in West Virginia, West details his struggles with love, an abusive childhood and basketball in a conversational but detached manner.
His lifelong battle with sometimes immobilizing depression is captured in a way that does not make you feel sorry for West; it only helps you better understand the man.
West was not the hero in his family — the designation went to older brother David West, who was killed in 1951 in the Korean War. (Several of the West siblings named children after him.)
That loss fueled Jerry and led him to basketball.
He used the sport as a release and learned the game from repetition. West writes that a simple statement from a neighbor drove him to be what he became: “There goes that West kid again, goin’ nowhere in a hurry. He’s not goin’ to amount to nothing.”
Boy did he prove them wrong. West is to this day one of the best-known and most celebrated athletes in history. He had a successful basketball career with West Virginia and the Los Angeles Lakers. He then spent many successful years in the offices (and briefly as a coach) of the Lakers bringing in talent such as James Worthy, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
But at the root of it all were his personal demons. West would slump into emptiness with losses — he describes feelings of despair after repeated losses to the Boston Celtics as a player.
West says he still struggles with saying “I love you,” even to his wife and children.
But with everything he says basketball is what always pulls him out of it.
West’s account, with the help of Charlottesville author Jonathan Coleman, is written more like a conversation than a memoir.
Turning that pages felt like sitting side-by-side with West in a comfy chair and hearing his tales — good and bad. He offered insight into his life and how he views the game.
Because of this style, some of the chapters are a little disjointed and some of the voices can get confused. (One minute West is describing a scene and the next Magic Johnson may be commenting.)
But the read is well worth it.
As a basketball fan, it was great to read stories about the inner workings of a pro basketball dynasty. West is not shy about his successes and conflicts with management.
In another chapter, West details his all-time dream team with players from all eras competing at the same time. Names like Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Oscar Robertson and Dennis Rodman competing against the likes of Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone and West.
West throughout his life continued to have strong ties to his West Virginia roots and has connections that Virginians can relate to as well.
He mentioned (and is pictured with) friend Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier Resort in White Suplhur Springs, W.Va., home of a PGA Tour event.
West also ran a basketball camps at VMI in Lexington, Va., and at the Miller School outside Charlottesville.
In the end, though you can’t help but be humbled by the story. Jerry West proves that our heroes are also human.