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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 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. When you read a biography about a great person in history, there is a certain amount of guesswork, albeit educated. For instance, no one REALLY knows what George Washington was feeling during certain times. We can read his letters, but without talking to him directly, we don't know the full truth. At the same time, the disadvantage of the autobiography is that people value themselves probably more highly than they ought. No one wants to look like the bad guy or the screw up, so some points are glossed over or rationalized, even if it's a case of the person convincing himself that this revised history is the truth. To see this point illustrated, read Pete Maravich's autobiography "Heir to a Dream" and then read Mark Kriegel's excellent biography "Pistol." An outside observer is often more brutally honest about the subject than the subject. Besides this book and Kriegel's the other biography that really stands out is Robert Cherry's biography about Wilt Chamberlain, "Wilt: Larger than Life." The advantage Lazenby has over Cherry and Kriegel is that Jerry West is still alive, whereas Maravich and Chamberlain had passed away, so he was able to interview West himself. Furthermore, West is 71 years old, so he has a sense of perspective and is more likely to be honest looking back in retrospect to past relationships and performances, unlike a biography written about a 32 year old player in the prime of his career.

Finally, and probably most importantly, former Lakers General Manager Pete Newell said to understand Jerry West, you have to understand West, you have understand West Virginia. Lazenby, a West Virginia native, understands West Virginia. He spends significant time explaining the background of West Virginia, including the settling and conflict dating back to the French and Indian War, along with the exploitation of the land, resources, and people by large mining corporations. And beyond understanding the land and the people of the state as a whole, Lazenby also sets the background to West's upbringing. You have to understand his parents to understand why he is such a perfectionist. To understand his parents, you have to understand his grandparents. Lazenby goes into detail on this, along with some even more distant relatives. He spends three chapters setting up back story before we even get to West playing basketball in high school. In doing so, you really get into the mind of West and although he is a hard man to understand - namely his nervous energy, and inability to be sit back and take satisfaction in the fruit of his work - you still see WHY he is the way he is. And that is why this book is so special. Most books are more interested in the events rather than the "whys". Lazenby answers both.

You also get to see West's view on this relationships with key people in his career: Fred Schaus, Elgin Baylor, Jack Kent Cooke, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry Buss, and Phil Jackson.

The one question I always wondered was knowing West's perfectionist attitude and his wont for reliving the failures to win the championship in 6 meetings with the Celtics (along with past failures in college) and subjecting himself to misery, when the Lakers finally won the title in 1972, West went through a shooting slump in the finals and conference finals. I always wondered how he dealt with winning the finals, yet performing at a sub-standard level. Had I met West, I would never have asked him this. After all, when you stand before "Jerry F***ing West", you are in the presence of royalty, so how could you do anything except heap praise? Yet Lazenby does address this issue in detail - proving why he is one of the best at what he does. He's a fan, yet he's fair.

When I finished this book, I knew more about the subject matter than I did in any other sports book, and probably more than any other historical character. This is not just a good sports book, this is a textbook example of how to write a biography. This can proudly take its place alongside David McCollough's biography on John Adams and Edmund Morris' "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" on the bookshelf, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize, but have nothing on this book. This is the best 3-dimensional analysis of a character in any biography I have come across, and I have read many: sports and non-sports.

I own and have read so many basketball books that I created a website for my books with book reviews. I rate my books from 1-5 stars. I have often wondered which 5-star rated book was the best, and I had never been able to pick one out that stood above the rest - until now. This book stands out so far above the rest, that I had to create a new rating: 6-stars. The master sports author who created two previous brilliant works has created his magnum opus.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified 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." This self-imposed psychosis is probably the most amazing thing that a reader who is otherwise overly familiar with Jerry West's accomplishments will take away from this book. Hot Rod Hundley who preceded Jerry as a West Virginia All-American... and also preceded West as a first round selection by the Lakers so aptly said: "WEST ACCOMPLISHED TEN TIMES AS MUCH AS I DID IN MY CAREER, BUT HE'S ABOUT A TENTH AS HAPPY AS I AM."

There are plenty of unmatched statistics such as during the six NBA finals series against the Celtics in 1962,63,65,66,68, and 69... he averaged 31,29,34,35,32, and 38. In the 1964-65 six game Western Conference playoff series with the Bullets, "WEST AVERAGED 46.3 POINTS PER GAME, A RECORD THAT HAS WITHSTOOD THE TEST OF EVEN MICHAEL JORDAN'S BEST." Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote: "NO CELTIC OPPONENT HAS EVER HAD MORE FANS WISHING HE WOULD SWITCH UNIFORMS, AND THAT INCLUDES MICHAEL JORDAN."

*JERRY WEST WAS NAMED THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER OF THE 1969 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES... THE ONLY TIME IN LEAGUE HISTORY THAT THE MVP CAME FROM THE LOSING TEAM!*

The reader will hear no holds barred comments from West regarding such luminaries as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jack Kent Cooke, Jerry Buss, Fred Schaus, Phil Jackson... and many others. You will learn... or be reminded that West is probably the most loved and respected player to ever come from the state of West Virginia... in fact the author who is also from West Virginia says that his Father worshipped Jerry West. "I OFTEN TELL PEOPLE THAT THERE WERE TWO PICTURES ON THE WALL OF OUR HOME WHEN I WAS A BOY. ONE WAS OF JESUS. THE OTHER WAS OF JERRY WEST. THE PICTURE OF JESUS, I TELL PEOPLE, WAS HUNG HIGHER THAN THE PICTURE OF JERRY, BUT ONLY BY ABOUT AN INCH OR TWO."

The only part of this book from my perspective that was not five star quality was approximately thirty-odd pages near the beginning of the book that went into the history of West Virginia as far back as the 1700's. Perhaps I... like many other potential readers was simply chomping at the bit to immediately get to the main subject... my childhood hero Jerry West. I grew up in Los Angeles while West was playing for the Lakers. I wore his number 44 on my high school team... my junior college team... and on my military team. I practiced day and night imitating Jerry's unstoppable jump shot until mine was one and the same.

In my house... Jerry's picture was higher on the wall than any other.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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
on April 11, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Having been a Laker fan since the early 70's, I couldn't wait to read about my all-time favorite Laker. The author does an excellent job following the life and career of Jerry West. Starting with his childhood in the Depression, this is the time in his life where his "perfectionism" began. With hard work and the demands of his mother, Jerry would carry this burden through-out his entire life. Looking back over the years, Jerry said he had no idea why he played so hard except he was desperate to please his mother, to make up for the great loss she had suffered due to the death of his brother, David. During his college years, Jerry encounters "Hot Rod Hundley"(from West Virginia and future Laker) and Oscar Robertson. The 60's were especially difficult due to the constant losing to the Boston Celtics. During the '72 season the Lakers finally hit pay-dirt with a World Championship and a record 33 game winning streak. After his career was over, Jerry would be the Lakers' general manager and be involved with the organization he loved. I enjoyed most of the book, but found myself saddened with the fact of the underlining events that haunted this super-star. The demand for perfection is impossible to endure yet essential to greatness, basketball's select few---this is Jerry West. Jerry once said certain players, the elite, have a little extra "dust sprinkles" on them at birth---this is Jerry West. The image and character of Jerry West is what being a professional is all about. Maybe that is why Jerry's silhouette is the logo for the NBA. Would also recommend Wilt: Larger Than Life and Chick: His Unpublished Memoirs and the Memories of Those Who Loved Him as companion reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Biographer Roland Lazenby describes Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West as "the most influential figure in the history of American basketball." Lazenby takes on the task of trying to explain the "mystery that is Jerry West."

Lazenby was told that to understand West, he needed to understand West Virginia, where West was born and raised and played for the University of West Virginia. Lazenby spends the first 75 pages, detailing the history of West Virginia, exploring West's ancestry and interviewing many of his family members, relatives and boyhood friends. While this does help to explain West, I'm afraid it's about 50 pages too long for many readers.

But, by the time you finish this nearly 400-page biography, you'll have completely forgotten about the book's slow start.

Lazenby achieves his goal of explaining the mystery of Jerry West. Jerry's mother was a perfectionist, who was a loner and shy. Jerry, who had little relationship with his abusive father, took after his mother. He was also deeply affected by the death of his older brother in the Korean War.

West was never able to enjoy his accomplishments. Nothing he ever did was good enough. Instead, he settled for disappointment, harsh criticism or perceived slights by others. He would go through long periods of depression when he wasn't playing well. He was extremely competitive, had more heart than any other player, obsessed with winning and driven to greatness. He was humble, shy and reserved.

Lazenby says West's rise to the top of basketball was "absolutely improbable." West was physically frail through high school, college and much of his NBA career. As an NBA rookie he was 6-foot-3 and 172 pounds. Coach Bill Sharman called West, known as Mr. Clutch, "the tallest 6-foot-3 player ever." Sharman also felt West was "probably the greatest defensive guard ever."

Lazenby gives a good account of West's high school and college basketball careers, particularly the rivalry between West and Oscar Robertson of the University of Cincinnati to be considered the best college player in the nation. The book is equally divided between West's pre-NBA years and NBA career.

West's heroics and heartbreaks in the NBA, losing year after year to the Boston Celtics for the championship, are well chronicled. West and the Lakers finally won a championship in 1972, beating the New York Knicks. Lazenby points out that if West had scored a total of 10 more points in five games, he would have had an NCAA title and four NBA titles.

After his playing days, West served three unhappy years as the Lakers coach and then became their successful general manager.

This is an insightful biography about one of the NBA's greatest players ever. It should be on every basketball fan's "must-read" list.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The best sports biography I ever read from the historical periods leading up to Jerrys birth to the present day. I could almost hear Chick Hearn describing the activities of the court action moving from "left to right on your radio dial".

Jerry Lee (age 72)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is different than the average sports book you'll read - some reviewers have commented on the excess pages of West's beginnings and yes, while it's a tad extensive - almost half the book covers his life thru college - it is refreshing, too. Far too many sports books have too many game summaries but you don't learn much about the person - if you're reading this, you know who Jerry West is and don't want to bother with trivial game descriptions - a few game summaries are okay but a book with too many is tiresome reading. And speaking about you know who Jerry West is, why do so many reviewers try to give you his life story, like we don't know who he is?? - if you're reading all these reviews, then you obviously know who Jerry West is and it's tiresome reading to slog thru those kinds of reviews - I mean, we know who Jerry West is, just tell us about the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It seemed to me that Roland had cooperation from the whole West family with the exception of Jerry himself, but with that being said he did a good job. He really did his research for sure and gave more detail than West did in his own autobiography. This book did remind me of Lazenby's Showtime book and that was fine by me, since I'm a Laker fan. The one thing that I love about the book is that it shatters the myth that Jerry West was the one who gave The Lakers Pau Gasol for the way less talented Kwame Brown, when In fact Jerry was not even working for Memphis anymore. It was West's successor who pulled off that trade. I liked this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I purchased the book "Jerry West: the Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon" for my brother-in-law, who played basketball for a small college in West Virginia, where Mr. West is from. I was fairly certain he would enjoy the book, and as it turned out, I was quite correct. I haven't read the book myself, but it sounds like this is the perfect book for serious basketball fans, or particularly for fans of Jerry West.
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