There aren’t many people as committed to excellence as Jerry West. Despite a harsh West Virginia upbringing that’s led to an arduous battle with depression, the Hall-of-Famer has reached the top of the NBA mountain as a player and general manager. He is beloved by anyone who breathes the game, and his autobiography is a must read even for casual sports fans.
This weekend, you can see West talk at length about his career and life on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger.” During the interview, he does touch on the abuse he suffered as a child, which he first wrote about in his autobiography, but there’s a lot more to the man than just his own personal demons. His time as the architect of a Lakers team who would capture three straight titles, and the often disparate stars, Kobe and Shaq, who led them to the promised land, is also broached, as is his role with the Warriors.
West’s current gig as a consultant for Golden State gives him a unique insight into this season’s MVP, Stephen Curry, and how unique Steph is within the superstar stratosphere. West separates Curry from his fellow MVP brethren because he doesn’t control a game with “force.” That might sound like a pejorative, but it’s anything but:
“You look at that little – seemingly little – body; he plays the game with no force. LeBron James, James Harden, all of these guys play the game where they play with force. He doesn’t. And he’s still the best player on the team that has the best record in the league. He’s clever, you know, he’s not going to overpower you with strength. We have the most fun team in the league to watch and he’s a big part of that.”
The original Mr. Big Shot also goes into his time as GM for the Lakers, when he brought both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant aboard in the summer of 1996. The two stars eventually won three titles in a row, but clashed so consistently (especially at the end), Shaq was eventually dealt to Miami. West, one of the smartest guys in the league, saw up-close just how their individual personas rubbed each other the wrong way:
“I think that Kobe Bryant played every game like he didn’t like anyone he played against, which I loved. He didn’t like fraternization, which I loved. And Shaquille was like a big teddy bear, who smiled, but you put him in a game where something was on the line and you wouldn’t want to play against Shaquille O’Neal… I think the combination of, you know, Kobe wanting to exert himself more than he had, and Shaquille being very vocal about who he was…. I think those two different personalities had to clash somewhere along the way. I didn’t think they’d ever clash to the extent they did.”
He’s also got some terrific advice for general managers, or managers in general; basically, don’t micromanage:
Bensinger: “And you won’t travel with the team on away games right?”
West: “No no no. Well, first of all, I think-I don’t think you should. I think it’s a huge distraction for a general manager to be around players and coaches all the time, and particularly coaches because I think at times coaches would look like somebody’s looking over my shoulder. When you hire someone, you hire them to do the best possible job that they can. And you’re not there to critique them if they don’t ask you something.”
Everything West says is akin to gospel for diehard NBA heads. When you’ve been as successful as West has in so many different roles, he turned down offers to coach the Lakers at least a half a dozen times during his tenure in LA, you listen with rapt attention any time he has something to say.