By Justin Jackson
For the WVPA
MORGANTOWN — One of Jerry West’s bigger truths is he is more comfortable when he is behind the scenes.
When he is center stage, much like he was Monday, June 20, at the Downtown Wise Library for the unveiling of the Jerry West Collection, West admits to being a fidgety soul.
“I would rather be anonymous,” West said. “Anonymity is probably the most important thing in my life right now. I still don’t have it.”
The NBA Hall of Famer and former West Virginia men’s basketball standout may never have it.
Not in the professional basketball world where he led the Lakers to seven NBA Finals in his playing days before building them into a dynasty in the 1980s and 1990s as the general manager.
And not here in West Virginia, either, where he may consider himself simply as, ‘Just a kid from Cabin Creek,” but knows he is often viewed as the greatest player ever to wear a WVU uniform.
“When I came to West Virginia [as a player], I remember the big poster they had of you,” WVU head basketball coach Bob Huggins said. “I put it on the ceiling above my bed, so that I could look at Jerry West every night before I went to bed.
“That lasted until I was a junior here and I replaced it with Chris Evert.”
It is high praise West laughs at and appreciates — “So many have said to me, ‘You know you’re important to this state and you represent it the way we like to present it,’ ” West said — but he quickly shrugs off the notion that his collection of memorabilia that includes his one NBA championship ring as a player, as well as photos and papers dating throughout his career was meant as a kind of shrine to him.
“When I was going to school here, I was still very much like I am today. I never wanted to do anything to draw attention to myself,” West said. “With this event, I’m calling attention to myself, which is completely out of order for me.”
Instead, West wants the collection to serve as motivation for future children of West Virginia who may not believe that they can make an impact in their world.
“Hopefully what it will do is some young kid will come here and realize that hard work, dedication and perseverance can lead them to have a career completely in a different direction,” said West, who is now on the executive board of the Golden State Warriors. “I’m hopeful some young kid can get inspired by my life and maybe change the direction of his life and maybe do something that will be special for him.”
Much of the credit for the successes chronicled in the display cases West quickly gives to WVU.
He makes a point of giving back, either in the form of donations or in the creation of scholarship foundations.
Much of it is done out of the spotlight. West does not want news made of his generosity.
Sometimes, though, he does get word of what his help has created, and that’s when West gets a real sense of pleasure out of his accomplishments.
“As you go along and your life changes, I knew I couldn’t have gone to college without an athletic scholarship,” West said. “I probably would have had to have been a part-time student.
“The most gratifying thing for me is when I see someone who was a beneficiary of some of the scholarships funds I have; when I get letters from kids thanking me for helping them get through school, at the end of the day, that’s a lot more meaningful for me than any publicity that I have received in my life.”
(Used by permission of the Dominion Post of Morgantown, W.Va.)