Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 30, 2007

A nod to Jerry West

It’s basketball season, which means, as a UCLA fan, an opportunity to wash the bitter football taste out of my mouth and watch some good college hoops.

It also means pro basketball, and the LA Times today had a special section with a pro/college basketball preview. Pretty standard stuff, except for a piece by Rus Bradburd, a coach who drew the unnerving duty of giving a semi-private ball-handling lesson to Earl Watson, formerly of UCLA and now with the Seattle Supersonics, and Jerry West’s son. While West was watching.

For those of you who don’t know, Jerry West is one of the best shooters (not to mention players, period) ever to play the game (and may, today, be a better shooter than half the guys in the NBA). His silhouette is on the NBA logo. When he talks about shooting, you listen:

Jerry West paused on the baseline, where the NBA three-point line connects. Then he stepped off the court, meaning out of bounds, but still behind where the three-point arc would be, if it continued. Without bouncing the ball, he squared himself.

From that angle, a shooter can barely see the rim. You’re actually behind the backboard, and need to get just the right arc and release — there’s zero margin of error. Watson looked at me, and raised his eyebrows. I moved from under the net, out toward the wing where the ball would likely carom after nicking the backboard. A basketball rim is wide enough to fit two balls through at the same time, but from that angle, off the court near the corner, you have to be perfect.

Jerry West was perfect.

I’ll add to this one thing, largely because it’s one of the highlights of my life.

Nearly 20 years ago, Jerry West came to UCLA to speak at its business school while I was attending, and I spoke to him afterwards and arranged a meeting later on at the Laker offices at the Forum in Inglewood. I have never met a kinder, more generous individual – with both his time and advice. I saw him several years later at the basketball portion of the US Olympic festival in Pauley Pavilion, and I said hello. He either remembered me or was gracious enough to pretend he did. But his kindness extended to the dozens of folks who pestered him for autographs, and even though he was working (he was scouting future NBA player Glenn Robinson, among others) he was unfailingly polite.

I think of West when people tell me that success requires a certain ruthlessness, or that it can demand the abandonment of one’s principles. West was as successful as you can be in the NBA, both as a player and an executive, and he has stayed true to himself throughout.

Anyway, the piece is a fun read, about one of the good guys. We need more of them, in all of our worlds.

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