In-depth biography of one of the NBA’s greatest players and executives.
Decades after the conclusion of Jerry West’s career, “Mr. Clutch,” the bumpkin-turned-superstar whose graceful silhouette serves as the NBA logo, is still considered one of the best players ever. Despite his star status, he often shunned the spotlight during his career. As Lazenby (Journalism/Virginia Tech Univ.; The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, 2005, etc.) peels back the layers of mystique surrounding his historically reticent subject, West is revealed as a peevish perfectionist whose hypercompetitive nature, which provided such an edge on the court, made him a high-strung, obstinate womanizer off it. The author painstakingly recounts West’s early years growing up in West Virginia, delving into his family history and focusing in particular on his contentious relationship with his father and similarities to his mother, from whom he derived his stoicism and legendary work ethic. After considerable success in high school, West earned All-American status at West Virginia University before being drafted by the Lakers. His professional career was marked by historic personal success (14-time all-star and Hall of Famer) and agonizing team disappointment—though he won one NBA title, West’s Lakers lost in the championship round eight times. A brief stint coaching the Lakers followed, but West ultimately found his post-career niche as a Lakers executive, proving to be an astute judge of talent in constructing multiple championship teams led by the likes of Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Lazenby gives short shrift to West’s decades of work as a scout and executive, however, and though the author makes a game effort, it’s impossible to make West as compelling on paper as he was on the court.
Lakers diehards and hoops historians should give it a shot, but others may pass.