Monday, January 26, 2009

Jerry West: The man behind the silhouette

Those who enjoy a good sports tome might enjoy hearing that Jerry West, the greatest NBA player turned executive, is planning to pen his memoir:
"With the help of critically acclaimed writer Jonathan Coleman, bestselling author of Long Way to Go: Black and White in America and Exit the Rainmaker, West will candidly and poignantly recount the fascinating, complex life of one of sports' greatest heroes — on and off the court."
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There has been a need for a West bio ever since 1996. A writer named Ken Fuson penned a piece called, "The Man Who Loves Basketball Too Much; The Exquisite Torment of Jerry West."

The Fuson piece was included in The Best American Sports Writing 1997. That collection, edited by George Plimpton, got criticized for being a wee bit phallocentric, prattling on about "men of letters" and then including only one piece written by a woman. It was redeemed by having the late David Foster Wallace's "The String Theory," a profile on obscure tennis pro Michael Joyce.

It ran in Esquire right before Infinite Jest was published. It was something else, all right. It referred to the American player Michael Chang having, "an expression of deep and intractable unhappiness, as unhappy a face as I have seen outside a graduate creative writing program," which no doubt influenced more than a few wannabe writers' future schooling and career choices, perhaps for the better. It was later anthologized in Wallace's collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

Getting back to West, remembering that Fuson piece certainly whets the appetite for a full-length book treatment. Basketball, contrary to Plimpton's rule that "the smaller the ball, the better the writing," tends to lend itself to good character studies. West's journey from an impoverished upbringing in backwoods West Virginia — he didn't care for his college nickname Zeke from Cabin Creek — to assembling the Showtime Lakers of the '80s should be a joy. West was someone who absolutely could not stand to lose, yet his Lakers lost eight of nine NBA Finals during his career, mostly thanks to Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics.

West is still the only player to be NBA Finals MVP while playing on the losing team. He did so 1969, when the Lakers kept Wilt Chamberlain on the bench in the closing minutes of Game 7 and lost by two points. West put up 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists on, get this, a torn hamstring.

Those are facts. West turned 70 last year, so he's at the age where people are usually pretty open about the details of their own life. It's a promising piece of news.

(Meantime, a good read is the interview Michael Joyce did with Tennis Week in the wake of Wallace's suicide last summer.)

Basketball Legend Jerry West to Publish His Autobiography (

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