An Interview With Jerry West

31 10 2011

The interview will be up tomorrow on SLAMonline. I wanted to plant a few thoughts on here, though. Jerry West is one of those athletes whom I think of only in mystical terms. He played in an era – the ’60s and early ’70s – which obviously came well before I was born. He played for a team I grew up loving to death – still do.

West’s presence, though, has been one that seemed only half-real. There are YouTube videos of NBA games from his era, as there are older games on NBA TV from time-to-time. I’ve read books and magazine articles about West and other athletes, from all sorts of sports, from his era and eras before his time.

But I look at these guys now, older men, and it’s difficult to imagine that they were among the world’s best athletes at one time. I remember once seeing Sandy Koufax at an event at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. I was too nervous to go up to him and shake his hand. I mean, it’s SANDY FUCKING KOUFAX. As an L.A. kid who grew up watching the Dodgers and reading about their history, I was too awestruck to do anything other than stare at him. He’s a strapping guy, too. Seventy-four years old but still an athletic-looking 6’2. The same with West.

West is also 6’2 and, like Sandy, he still has an athletic build. Yet to think of him as a world-class athlete is odd. He’s 73 years old, so athletic prowess isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. At the same time, I was still slightly dumbfounded tonight as I spoke with him. I’ve read so much about him and have seen him on TV so often. He’s been apart of every Lakers dynasty while they’ve been in Los Angeles, since 1960.

Even though he hasn’t worked for the Lakers since 2000, his fingerprints were all over the latest Lakers back-to-back title teams. He drafted Fisher, traded for Kobe on that same draft night and hired Phil Jackson. In many ways, Jerry West IS the Lakers. That’s why it was such a pleasure to step out of my mindset as a sports reporter and enjoy the experience of meeting him as a sports fan.

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