Jerry West, the man, the legend, the icon. West speaks with Andy about his legendary career, the importance of mental health, and his inspirational book, West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life. Nicknamed, “Mr. Clutch,” West was a fourteen year player for the Lakers and later served as Head Coach and General Manager. He went on to front office roles with the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, and is currently a consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Being an athlete was easy. I was given a gift. I was ultra competitive, and even today I’m competitive,” West said. “And frankly, it’s almost ridiculous that at 82 years of age I’m still that way. I don’t like to lose. But I think you have to learn how to lose. But you also have to learn how to win. And as I say, I don’t think that did it for me, but it just changed me as a person completely.”
With nine championships to his name, (one as a player, eight as an executive), West is well-known for winning, on and off the court. Despite the outward success, he explains that there is a hidden mental health component that many fans may not see.
“I know a couple of times after we lost in the championships, I didn’t want to be around. You don’t know that. But someone in maybe the, physically, the prime of their life, competing for the biggest prizes, it was almost like a total rejection,” West said.
Despite the challenges that athletes face in the limelight, West acknowledges that their fame also gives them a platform to raise awareness about mental health and social justice issues.
“The players have an enormous platform to help make a change. I think anything related to mental health, emotional stability,” West said. “You realize there’s so much more in this world that is more important than just being an athlete. And yet, people will fawn over people. More importantly, they will look at athletes and put them on a pedestal. And oftentimes we don’t belong on that pedestal.”
West was the architect of the Lakers “Showtime” teams that won five NBA titles in the 1980’s. In 1996 he brought Shaquille O’Neal to LA and Kobe Bryant as a rookie via a Draft night trade. The duo went on to win three championships together.
West describes the late Kobe Bryant’s impact on the game: “He was the ultimate competitor with the ultimate skill and playing in the City of Los Angeles, obviously, made his legend bigger. It just resonated. He resonated with so many people because basketball is a worldwide game.”
West advocates for honesty and open communication both on and off the court. He believes that, especially during the pandemic, resilience is important to success.
“I think the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life is giving, being kind to everyone. I don’t hate anyone. I mean, I literally don’t hate anyone. I wish everyone would adopt an honesty policy when we’re dealing with each other,” West said. “Why can’t people just be honest about who they are and the problems they face? And I think this would be a better world.”
Hear more about West’s current consulting role with the Clippers, his relationship with owner Steve Ballmer, his definition of greatness, thoughts on the Lakers/Clippers rivalry, and more.