With an autobiography coming to set the record straight — "I was sick and tired of reading things about me that weren't even close to being true" — the former Lakers star and general manager admits in a profile at Grantland that he's still uncomfortable with his fame. Maybe more now, at age 73 and apparently taking stock of his life. Except from the piece by Jonathan Abrams, which opens taking in the view from Jerry West's home in West Virginia.
The colors have not changed, but West's perspective has shifted over the years. "I'm in more of a melancholy mood today," he admits. Always a man of endless contradictions, the 73-year-old West is more aware of them than ever. He yearned for excellence on the basketball court but wishes he could be an average, everyday person away from it. He was obsessively devoted to the sports game and came as close as anyone to mastering it as a player and executive, and yet he abruptly retired as a player and as an executive — twice, no less, with his beloved Los Angeles Lakers and with the Memphis Grizzlies, whose warm-ups insignia he wore as we talked. He feels immense pride that the league recognized him as the silhouetted figure on its logo, but that logo vaulted him onto a pedestal that he continues to dread.1 He loves to read, but can't sit still. His main joy is a product of a willingness to give his money, time, or resources, and yet there are days when he sincerely believes the world would be better without him.
"From that standpoint, I don't have everything," West says from the first floor of his lavish home, standing in a room adjacent to both a movie theater and wine cellar. "Self-esteem is something I still battle. People look at me and say you've got fame, you've got admiration, you've done this, you've done that. As far as I'm concerned, I haven't done anything. I've just fulfilled a dream of competing. I could be special in some ways. Even though I felt at times, 'My goodness, you're among the upper echelon,' there is still a huge void there. A huge void. It is about self-esteem. That's a thing that has always been a real complex part of my life.
"I see people that have success and I see how poised and polished they are and how they handle it. I wonder inside if they feel the same way that I feel."
I look down at a throw pillow on the couch. The inscription reads: "We interrupt this marriage to bring you basketball season."
"West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," with Jonathan Coleman, is to be released Oct. 19. West also chats with Peter Guber at Live Talks Los Angeles on Oct. 18.