Many people know Jerry West as the NBA logo, but before becoming the silhouette, West was a WVU basketball star.
Jerry West arrived in Morgantown in 1956 but couldn’t play until his sophomore year due to a no-freshman rule that many laugh at today. His 17.8 points per game his sophomore year on campus were the lowest total of his career, but that’s just because he would burst on to the scene as a junior and never look back.
In 1959, Zeke from Cabin Creek poured in 26.6 points per game and pulled down 12.3 rebounds while being named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. He shot an incredible 51 percent from the field, years before the 3-point shot was even introduced. His final season in Morgantown saw his production take another leap as he scored 29.3 points per game; his rebounds even spiked to 16.5 per game. West is WVU basketball’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
The East Bank, W. Va. native, was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers 2nd overall in the 1960 NBA Draft. His first year in the NBA mirrored his first season on the court in Morgantown, scoring only 17.6 points per game; he’d never score less than 20 the rest of his career. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, West served as co-captain for the U.S. basketball team.
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Also known as Mr. Clutch, West scored 30-plus points in four separate seasons: 30.8 ppg in 1961-62, 31.0 ppg in ’64-65, 31.3 ppg in ’65-66 and 31.2 ppg in ’69-70. This production over the course of a long career earned West All-Star honors 14 times, including the game’s MVP in 1972. It wasn’t all scoring from the West Virginia guard, though.
For the 1969-70 season, West led the league in scoring with 31.2 points per game. Fast-forward to the 1971-72 season: West led the league in assists per game with 9.7. With his playoff resume, the legend of Mr. Clutch just grows.
Seven separate playoff runs saw West score 30-plus points, including 40.6 points per game through 11 games in the 1964-65 stretch. He made a number of late-game shots, of note this 60-footer against the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals.
For all the exceptional numbers and nicknames to West’s record, he only won one NBA title as a player. His title happened in 1972, but it was a year he lost that earned him one of the biggest awards. In 1969, the Lakers squared off with the Boston Celtics for the sixth time in eight years. They wound up losing the series, but West showed off with a 53-point game and a 42 point, 13 rebound, 12 assist performance to close things out. This was the first – and only – time in NBA history that saw a player from the losing team named Finals MVP.
After hanging up the sneakers for a suit and tie, West coached the Lakers to a 145-101 record while also dealing with day-to-day basketball operations. In 2002, West joined the Memphis Grizzlies and was immediately named Executive of the Year. Upon leaving Memphis after a handful of years, Mr. Clutch seemed to come through for the Lakers yet again.
In 2007, the Grizzlies traded All-Star Pau Gasol and the Western Conference was under Laker-rule once again. Paired with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers dynamic duo made the NBA Finals three consecutive seasons – twice winning a title. I’m not giving West all the credit (or any of it, really – he was out of the picture), but I like to think he had a hand in facilitating one of the best trades in NBA history.
West has served as a non-decision maker in the Golden State Warriors front office for the past six seasons, being present for the steam-rolling they’ve accomplished. West wasn’t the tipping point for Kevin Durant’s venture to Golden State, but his presence was surely felt. Just like in his youth, West is all about new challenges, though. His next up-hill climb? The Los Angeles Clippers.
After Clipper management traded star player Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and cap-space fillers, it’s time for West to get to work. Can he rebuild this team and make them respectable among the NBA elites? Is Doc Rivers, who did a decent job of pushing Paul, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan to the brink, the coach of the present (or future)? Should they re-sign Jordan to a long-term deal next summer and try reload around the front of he and Griffin? These are all questions the Clippers are asking, and a boy from West Virginia has a pretty clutch hand.