Roland Lazenby: From Pointing West to Catching the Buss
Recently I had the privilege of speaking with longtime author and journalist Roland Lazenby, where we discussed the NBA, the Lakers, and his latest book. Thanks to his extensive contributions and efforts, Lazenby has long been known and respected around the sports world. Back in 1993 Lazenby wrote an extensive piece that I read as a young boy entitled “The Lakers: A Basketball Journey” that discussed the history of one of the most storied franchises in sports. Now, seventeen years and dozens of books later, Lazenby has released his latest Lakers inspired biography, “Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon,” which details the life and career of the NBA Hall of Famer and his constant quest for perfection. Jerry West is a man who has been called many different things throughout his life, and is one of the most iconic images in all of basketball. Whether you know him as Mr. Clutch or the NBA logo, West is a staple of the the most popular basketball league on the planet. Roland Lazenby’s fascination with West can be attributed to his father, whom introduced him to West as a young boy. Lazenby described West as a complex perfectionist, and a man who turned his less than stellar physical dimensions into a Hall of Fame career. Through hard work and determination, West made himself the most recognizable icon in the game of basketball.
“My old man took me to the Southern Conference tournament when I was 6 to see the great Jerry West, then the star at West Virginia University. I don’t remember much about it except that everyone kept telling me we were going to see Jerry West. I didn’t know who that was, but the way they said it I thought it must have been the Easter Bunny or something.”
Jerry West was at the center of the basketball universe for over forty years, and there is not a fan on the planet who doesn’t respect what he has done for the NBA and the game of basketball. West came from a small town in West Virginia, and in his biography Lazenby tried to give readers an insight into the world that created Mr. Clutch. For the younger generation, West may be better known as a General Manager than the star shooting guard that led the Lakers for fourteen years through the sixties and seventies. However, through his biography Lazenby is sharing with basketball’s younger fans the side of Jerry West that they may not know, as well as reminding those who saw him play just how fantastic he was. West carried with him a chip on his shoulder, and a constant edge that gave him an advantage on the court as a player, and behind the scenes as an executive.
“The West Virginia that West knew is the kind of place that shaped you. I explain it by saying that West Virginia is its own sort of ethnicity. Jerry wasn’t just shaped by West Virginia, but by the open way people lampooned his place and his people. Jerry played in a different era, in a different ethos than (Michael) Jordan or (Kobe) Bryant. It was not a time where that individual bravado was articulated as clearly. It was present to some degree, but articulating that macho thing changed the game.”
Many modern day basketball fans have witnessed the type of mental edge that superstars such as Bryant or Jordan have on their opponents. Players like that have something else upstairs that makes them tick, a form of competitiveness that most of us simply fail to understand. West shared the same sort of mindset, and was the type of player who hated to lose much more than he loved to win. West was one of the first guards to show such a competitive drive in the NBA, and along with Oscar Robertson transitioned the NBA guard into a more athletic and well-rounded position.
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