Remembering Jerry West: A Personal Tribute to the Basketball Legend’s Early Days at WVU

BTN News: So the death of basketball icon Jerry West on the same day brings back a certain flood of emotions and memories for a lot of us who saw him on the West Virginia University campus in 1960. Both because of his shyness and exceptional capability, Jerry West had that same unforgettable effect on anyone who saw him play and even those who had a chance to meet him, way back in his college years. In those first 100 seconds, not only did his dream change, but the world did: Here are selected remembrances from one contemporary who saw West go from a star-struck athlete to an iconic basketball figure.

Early run-ins with Jerry West

I went to PSC-JC which is part of the WVU system before I transferred to WVU. Even then, Jerry West’s name would echo through the airwaves from our radios huddled around listening to WVU basketball games. I finally got to watch West in action when I arrived at WVU in 1960, and it magnified his contribution to the game no-referrer.

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A Reserved Icon

For many, Jerry West seemed standoffish, largely because he had always been so tightly reserved. He was taking classes in the same building I was, and I could see how fast he rushed from one place to the other, barely talking to anyone. He may be shy by nature, but there’s no hiding behind Khan’s presence. He is not just a part of basketball – he is dedicated to it.

Living in Proximity

I actually grew up around the corner from Jerry West, and well within six blocks of his house that he shared with his teammates. I was on the WVU tennis team and we would practice on the courts right next to the gym where West played many a game. A few times I would spot him in a pickup with his crew, showcasing his talent and passion as always.

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Electrifying Performances

While Jerry West was at WVU, the old gym was a sea of excitement. The tiered, steeply inclined seating made every second of the game feel like life and death for the fans His ability was frighteningly clear – for those of us playing the game, we knew we were witnessing an outlier in action.

A Memorable Gesture

A highlight from 1960 was a visit from an opponent that had an African-American center. Standing at the front of the gym was a man who needed no introduction, Jerry West, who greeted the player, displaying a level of sportsmanship and leadership that was more powerful than it might ever have appeared, especially in that time of significant social change.

Glimpses of Future Greatness

In 1960, Baptiste, an alum of 1957, gave Jerry West a 1954 Pontiac two-entryway vehicle. There was an understanding that nobody knew how his career would turn out, but there was also the feeling that a future Hall of Famer was just waiting to break through in a big way. His Destiny Was Being Formed By His Unique Gift And Personality

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My personal attempt at connection.

Several years later, in 2007, I returned to West Virginia. As a Gemini born the same year as Jerry West, 1938, I felt a kinship and personally sent him a book of religious teachings with a special little poem on life. I hoped – I never heard back – these things might bring reassurance and some ideas. West is West, the only one God made, and his experience must have propelled many through life.


The legacy of Jerry West far transcends his sports accomplishments. Equally, mark-making mild manners have had a profound and lasting effect on everyone who has known him or followed his career. Looking back on his life, we will be reminded of not only the basketball legend but the extraordinary man who inspired so many.

Bright Times News Desk
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