Serving Franklin County, WA

I had a good reason

I find it interesting how we determine who our favorite players are. I know that as a young Dodger fan that lived in a home with other Dodger fans it was easy to have Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale as your go to favorites.

But when it came to the NBA it was different in the 1960s. There weren’t a lot of college or even NBA games on TV. I know that today we have ESPN, TNT, ABC and may other ways of watching basketball games so a young fan can gravitate to watching great athletes play the game. There are a lot of other channels that show college games and it is easy to watch future stars play when they are 18-21 years of age or so. Some of these kids play at a school that we follow while others get a lot of hype and become part of a late night highlight real.

But what about the great players that were part of the greatness of the NBA in the 1960s? How would a young kid find out about anyone from the other side of the country? In our house someone had purchased a book about the 1960 summer Olympics. I remember reading this book early in the morning on a Saturday usually and would look at all of the success of the American teams and individuals. This was well before the chanting of USA, USA, USA!!

I probably didn’t spend a lot of time reading about the gymnastics or weightlifting or Greco-Roman wrestling but I did spend a bunch of time reading about the USA men’s basketball team made up of athletes who were supposed to be amateurs.

There were some future professionals like Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. This team dominated the rest of the competition in similar fashion as the Dream Team of 1996 did. But the Dream Team members were professionals and grown men for sure. The 1960 team members had finished up their 4th year of college and were waiting to sign contracts and secure their NBA future.

As I read about this team I realized I didn’t know much about some of these guys but the more I read about Jerry West the more I liked him. At this time in my life I really didn’t have a team that I liked except that I liked Wilt Chamberlain because he was tall and dominant and impressive to watch whenever a game was broadcast. However, when Jerry West started playing for the Los Angeles Lakers I became a fan. I also liked Elgin Baylor so that seemed to be a really good combination and team to root for. Sure I was disappointed that they didn’t win an NBA championship until 1972, the year after Baylor retired but I still was happy enough for West and Chamberlain.

What I liked about Jerry West is just how smooth he played. And he wasn’t cocky and arrogant he was humble and appreciative of his teammates and he was a very good teammate himself. West was a great shooter and scorer but as time goes by he became a very good assist man letting younger stars take the shots to earn victory.

Following his playing days West would become the Laker coach and later GM and helped build some great Laker teams of the 1980s that would win five NBA championships. West left the Laker organization in 2000 after earning a sixth NBA crown as an executive but put together a solid team that would win three more after he moved on to the Memphis Grizzlies as their GM from 2002-2007.

From 2011-2017 he was an executive board member for the Golden State Warriors and was part of two NBA championships making it 8 total as either a GM or executive board member. From 2017-until his passing on June 12, 2024 he was an executive board member and consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers. He had hoped to return to the Laker organization but that never materialized.

West was a winner in high school winning a state championship for his hometown in West Virginia. His West Virginia teams were highly successful playing in the NCAA tournament. He would earn a gold medal at the 1960 summer Olympics and would earn an NBA championship ring for the Los Angeles. For sure he had greatest success as a GM and executive board member.

Jerry West is the NBA logo which is an honor for how smooth he played. At 86 it isn’t a surprise that he has passed but it is still a shock to hear when it happens. He will be missed and I know that I chose the right reasons to become a fan of Jerry West.

— Dale Anderson is a sports columnist from Ritzville. To contact him, email [email protected].


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