The greatness of Jerry West remembered Khabritak

The greatness of Jerry West remembered Khabritak 

West Virginia icon and Hall of Famer passes away at the age of 86 
MORGANTOWN — In sports, there are stars, there are All-Stars, there are superstars. 
And there’s Jerry West.

In the world of basketball, he carries the same kind of aura a Babe Ruth or Willie Mays did in baseball; a Jim Brown or Tom Brady did in football. He was Pele able to use his hands, he Ali without the words.

He had the kind of aura surrounding him that only the special ones carry. He did things other players didn’t do.

He did things other players didn’t think of doing.

He did things other players didn’t think anyone could do.

You look at footage of him now and you know he could have played in this era, played with the best of them. He was Michael Jordan without a shoe contract, Travis Kelce without Taylor Swift; Pat McAfee without a television show.

He was just a kid from West Virginia who played the game the way it was supposed to be played, competed like every game was his last game, behaved the way every father would want his son to behave.

He was West Virginia’s own, no matter that he went on to play in the big city of Los Angeles.

Where other players had trading cards, he became the Logo of the NBA.

Think of Jerry West this way. He last played basketball at WVU 65 years ago. It was the last time they played in an NCAA Championship game.

In fact, the only time.

He still holds 17 school records, including the scoring and rebounding record.

Been some pretty fair players at West Virginia since then. Some of them made the Hall of Fame.

He was inducted three times in three different categories … as a player, executive and contributor.

Sam Huff may have had a national show made about him in the early days of TV, a show narrated by Walter Cronkite that put the position of middle linebacker into a special place in the national consciousness, but even he didn’t have the aura that West radiated.

West stayed true to his school in the quiet fashion that fit him so, giving millions to the school without screaming out for credit or asking for buildings, streets or facilities to be named in his honor.

His name, his fame was bigger than all that.

Somehow, the statue outside the Coliseum doesn’t come near honoring the man the way he should be honored.

Listen to Don Nehlen, the Hall of Fame football coach.

“When I came here, I remember my wife, Merry Ann, saying ‘Are you sure if they have football, but I’ve heard of Jerry West,” Nehlen said on Wednesday after learning that West had died at his Los Angeles home at age 86.

Remember, this was in 1980, 20 years after West played at WVU.

“Jerry West was Mr. West Virginia. He was it,” Nehlen went on.

Oddly, when Nehlen remarried after Merry Ann had died, his wife, Jan, was a good friend of West’s, a classmate from the day.

“She told me a lot of stories,” Nehlen said. “Jerry West was synonymous with West Virginia and vice-versa. He ruled the roost in college and pro basketball.”

Nehlen didn’t have a lot of interaction with West, who by the time he got to Morgantown West was running the Showtime Lakers that he had put together and Nehlen had a team to coach.

“He spoke at my lecture series. I picked him up at the airport and we spent time together. I had dinner with him at the Greenbrier once. I never had a chance to spend a lot of time with him,” Nehlen said.

Nehlen and West were, perhaps, the most influential persons in West Virginia University athletics history.

The world knew the greatness of Jerry West from the NBA. It knew him being the only player from a losing team to win the Finals’ Most Valuable Player Award. In the seventh game of that 1969 Final, West scored 42 points, had 13 rebounds and 12 assists despite having a nagging groin injury.

“Los Angeles has not won the championship, but Jerry West is a champion,” said the man who is the greatest champion of them all with 11 rings, Bill Russell of the Celtics after that performance.

And the next year, 1970, Jerry West hit one of the most famous shots in Finals history, a 60-footer at the buzzer of Game 3 to send the Knicks-Lakers into overtime

They know about why he was Mr. Clutch and how, even now in an era of extended playoffs in the NBA, West still is the all-time leader in total Finals’ points, field goals made and attempted and free throws made and attempted.

His accomplishments at WVU were no less dramatic, no less dynamic. The stage was just less formidable, so the word did not get out as it did in the NBA.

His resume flourished after his playing career ended as he became a coach, a scout and then a general manager and built some of the greatest teams ever to play in the NBA, including the Showtime Lakers.

He did it with class, shining a different look upon the state of West Virginia than the world had seen it as before. He became a goodwill ambassador, a statesman who would, in 2019 be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump.

“You know, it never ceases to amaze me the places you can go in this world chasing a bouncing ball,” West said. “My chase began in Chelyan, West Virginia, where I strung a wire basket with no net to the side of a bridge. If your shots didn’t go in, the ball rolled down a long bank and you would be chasing it forever. So you better make it.

“I was a dreamer. My family didn’t have much, but we had a clear view of the Appalachian Mountains, and I’d sit alone on our front porch and wonder, ‘If I ever make it to the top of that mountain, what will I see on the other side?’ Well, I did make it to the other side, and my dreams have come true. I’ve been able to see both sides, thanks to that bouncing ball.”

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