Top positive review
Should be on every basketball fan's "must read" list
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2010
Biographer Roland Lazenby describes Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West as "the most influential figure in the history of American basketball." Lazenby takes on the task of trying to explain the "mystery that is Jerry West."
Lazenby was told that to understand West, he needed to understand West Virginia, where West was born and raised and played for the University of West Virginia. Lazenby spends the first 75 pages, detailing the history of West Virginia, exploring West's ancestry and interviewing many of his family members, relatives and boyhood friends. While this does help to explain West, I'm afraid it's about 50 pages too long for many readers.
But, by the time you finish this nearly 400-page biography, you'll have completely forgotten about the book's slow start.
Lazenby achieves his goal of explaining the mystery of Jerry West. Jerry's mother was a perfectionist, who was a loner and shy. Jerry, who had little relationship with his abusive father, took after his mother. He was also deeply affected by the death of his older brother in the Korean War.
West was never able to enjoy his accomplishments. Nothing he ever did was good enough. Instead, he settled for disappointment, harsh criticism or perceived slights by others. He would go through long periods of depression when he wasn't playing well. He was extremely competitive, had more heart than any other player, obsessed with winning and driven to greatness. He was humble, shy and reserved.
Lazenby says West's rise to the top of basketball was "absolutely improbable." West was physically frail through high school, college and much of his NBA career. As an NBA rookie he was 6-foot-3 and 172 pounds. Coach Bill Sharman called West, known as Mr. Clutch, "the tallest 6-foot-3 player ever." Sharman also felt West was "probably the greatest defensive guard ever."
Lazenby gives a good account of West's high school and college basketball careers, particularly the rivalry between West and Oscar Robertson of the University of Cincinnati to be considered the best college player in the nation. The book is equally divided between West's pre-NBA years and NBA career.
West's heroics and heartbreaks in the NBA, losing year after year to the Boston Celtics for the championship, are well chronicled. West and the Lakers finally won a championship in 1972, beating the New York Knicks. Lazenby points out that if West had scored a total of 10 more points in five games, he would have had an NCAA title and four NBA titles.
After his playing days, West served three unhappy years as the Lakers coach and then became their successful general manager.
This is an insightful biography about one of the NBA's greatest players ever. It should be on every basketball fan's "must-read" list.