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Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon Hardcover – February 23, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Going beyond the facade of the multifaceted NBA legend, Lazenby, a professor of journalism at Virginia Tech (The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers), examines West, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974. From the frail kid from West Virginia coal country through his rebellious youthful hoopster to the crowning of a pro sports icon, this entertaining biography explicates how West, a shy, introverted perfectionist, emerged as a fabled college star with the West Virginia Mountaineers, using his patented one-hand jumper, pushing himself with endless drills to change the fate of the pro ball leagues. Lazenby accurately captures the inner man, his quirks, his rituals, his competitiveness when West, Mr. Clutch, faces off with Bill Russell's Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain's 76-ers. Even when the topic is life after active duty in pro ball, this book continues as a great example of old school sports bio without tabloid muck, satisfying all fans. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Jerry West is one of the best five or six basketball players who ever lived. However, his career paralleled the greatest winner in the history of team sports, Bill Russell. West’s Los Angeles Lakers lost to Russell’s Boston Celtics six times in the NBA finals, lending a Sisyphean context to West's playing career. It was only after Russell retired that West was able to win his single championship as a player. Later, as the Lakers’ general manager, he was able to build seven championship teams, but as related by Lazenby, longtime NBA writer and author of six previous basketball books, readers will conclude that West’s administrative championships did not compensate for the losses as a player. Lazenby reaches back into West’s hardscrabble West Virginia youth to provide a background for the hypercompetitive athlete to come. He incorporates contemporary interviews with West—and teammates, coaches, and rivals—as well those done through the years into a portrait that will mesmerize basketball fans who remember the man who became the model for the NBA’s ubiquitous logo. A thoughtful, serious biography of an athlete both blessed and cursed by talent and a competitive spirit. --Wes Lukowsky

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: ESPN; F First Edition edition (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345510836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345510839
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,047,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Jordan saved my life once. It was during the 1995 playoffs, Chicago vs. Charlotte, after a practice at the arena in Charlotte. He was walking out of the building with a group of reporters following. Walking backwards, I was leading the pack, with my tape recorder in his face, interviewing as we walked. I was a foot from walking off the loading dock at the back of the arena, about a 10 foot fall onto concrete, when he reached out and grabbed my arm to stop me from going over the edge.
So when I say that I have an interest in Jordan, I mean it.
I've written a new biography, Michael Jordan, The Life, set to be released by Little, Brown on May 6, 2014. His is a very big life, and the book was an immense challenge to write but oh so fascinating, as was the Jerry West bio I wrote in 2010 for ESPN Books/Random House.
I like to write about competitive personalities, especially those in the NBA. I like to write about their families. Among the zillion questions I had about MJ, I wanted to know where he came from, who the Jordans were. They were moonshiners, making and selling illegal liquor on North Carolina's Coastal Plain. So that's where his hard edge came from, I thought upon discovering who they were. Just about all the farmers and sharecroppers were moonshiners back in the day. That was their cash crop, the one that kept the family fed. They were tough-minded people, just like Jordan himself.
I've written a book that builds his life from that background. Starting at the beginning, with the birth of his great grandfather Dawson Jordan, allows me to take the reader through the process of his family, his background, and the nurturing of his vast competitive nature. What's more, it's immensely fun to track his rise. I enjoyed writing about the sharecroppers on North Carolina's Coastal Plain, just as I enjoyed writing about the coal miners and frontier settlers in Jerry West's background in West Virginia.
I see it as connecting all of the important cultural dots in the backgrounds of iconic figures.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Judd Vance on March 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
On rare occasions, the right person is at the right place in the right time to carry out an extraordinary task. When Roland Lazenby set out to write a biography on Jerry West, that was one of those special moments.

For starters, Lazenby is one of the best sportswriters in the business. Of all the many books written about the Chicago Bulls dynasty, his masterpiece "Blood on the Horns" sits above all the others (even ahead of Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules.") He also wrote THE book on the history of the Lakers franchise, "The Lakers" and then followed it up with the bigger more impressive tome "The Show." He's one of the very few writers who doesn't fall under the spell of basketball demigods, such as Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson, and do their bidding. He does his homework and reports the facts and puts them out there.

Second, he's a Lakers fan. I did not know this for some time, because he has written on many teams and written multiple books on the Bulls. Writing about what you love versus what you know has got to energize a writer, and you can see it here. To borrow a phrase quoted by those associated with West, how can you NOT be jazzed to write about "Jerry F***ing West?" The man IS the Lakers. He played 14 years, coached 2 years, scouted for the team, and served in various front office roles, including General Manager for 20 years. He built the 1980s and the early 2000s dynasty. This book radiates energy, and I imagine it was extremely difficult to craft this out, balancing love and fairness, rounding out the character and keeping the story pushing forward while covering such an extensive career.

The third reason has to do with West himself. The advantage of the autobiography is that the person telling the story knows more about himself than anyone.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Rick Shaq Goldstein on February 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's been over thirty-five years since all-time great Jerry West retired from the NBA so it's a daunting task to attempt his biography in a way that will seem fresh and meaningful to longtime Jerry West fans... but author Roland Lazenby succeeded in just such a quest. The author has done yeomen's work in combining archival historical articles, books and interviews... along with recent interviews with former teammates... associates... family members... and probably most impressive of all... former fiery members of competitive teams. I was raised to believe the greatest compliments a ballplayer could receive were from his peers... both teammates and competitors. An example of such haloed praise for West was proffered by Boston Celtic Tom Heinsohn who played... coached... or announced the six straight NBA championship series that West's Lakers lost to the hated Celtics: "WEST AND (TEAMMATE ELGIN) BAYLOR WERE TWO OF THE FIVE GREATEST PLAYERS EVER." Despite the fact that Jerry West finally got his elusive championship as a player by defeating the New York Knicks in 1972... a season that included *THE GREATEST CONSECUTIVE GAME WINNING STREAK BY ANY PROFESSIONAL TEAM IN ANY MAJOR SPORT IN HISTORY (33-STRAIGHT-GAMES)... Jerry's career both in college as an All-American at West Virginia and as a FOURTEEN-TIME-ALL-STAR for the Los Angeles Lakers... will be remembered by Jerry... as well as by those close to him... by the self-imposed anguish that was his daily life. He... like his Mother... was a perfectionist... and a single loss would nag at him inconsolably for months. It's this festering self-doubt and loathing that led some close to him to observe that despite all he accomplished in his career "HE NEVER SEEMED TO FIND ANY JOY IN IT.Read more ›
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Eric Mayforth on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Jerry West is one of the most important figures in NBA history, and in this great biography, Roland Lazenby chronicles the life of the man who led the Los Angeles Lakers to numerous Finals appearances and NBA championships as a player and general manager.

The book begins by tracing West's lineage to the eighteenth century, provides a vivid picture of West's childhood in mid-20th century West Virginia, and recalls many of the trials his family had at that time. The book describes how West learned the game of basketball, and traces his playing days at East Bank High, at West Virginia University, and on the 1960 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team.

West is most famous for his playing career with the Lakers, and much of the book covers those 14 seasons, including the inner workings of the Laker squad and West's famous playoff battles with the Boston Celtics. The author discusses how the same perfectionism that caused West to work so hard at the game and achieve such success had its negative aspects.

Lazenby documents West's post-playing days as a coach and general manager, and discloses some of the issues that led to West's departure from the team in 2000. This very well-researched book is made even better by the many interviews the author was able to obtain that yielded many fresh insights about West's career. This volume would be enjoyed by anyone keenly interested in NBA history.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By therealkenlo on April 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the second book I've bought by Mr Lazenby. I'll have to look again who his editors are, but in both books there are several instances where sentences, paragraphs, even a series of pages are repeated VERBATIM from another section in the book. This is not an instance of an author telling an anecdote two different ways, in two different places in the book. It is an instance of someone copying and pasting the same text and inserting it later in the book as filler to make the book appear larger. This gets obnoxious because you find yourself stumbling across the same 3-5 pages you read 60 pages ago, and having to flip through the next 3-5 pages wondering where the narrative picks back up with new material. I don't know why an author and publisher would allow this to occur. It was something that happened frequently in Lazenby's book on Kobe, and I just came across the first few instances of it in the West book, but like a sucker, it's the topic of his books that reel me in--not the writing or editing. Most of us who consider books like this are so interested in the Lakers that we don't really care how well written the books are...... Anyways, just thought you should know.
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