West on West: a must read for type As

I don’t watch basketball. I don’t care about basketball. Yet, I found myself purchasing a book with basketball as its main theme last Saturday, and had completed the thing by Sunday before church. It is West by West, by Jerry West, a man I’d never heard of in my life (when I ask Rog what he thinks of Jerry West he says “one of the greatest hoop players of all time. The NBA logo is modeled after him.”) Indeed.

Reality is that I was getting my weekly dose of the publishing world by reading Publishers Weekly as I was sweating out the after effects of attending a new restuarant opening in Seattle the night before. Like all aspiring authors (aspiring denoted by the lack of a book that has reached any bestseller list), I read PW for hope and inspiration that one day, in my lifetime, I’ll see my name within it’s pages. In the front of the weekly, two sections capture my attention. The first is the deal section (who is getting paid how much for what), and the second is the review section.

I’m about to turn the page because I see what I instantly categorize as ‘yet another boring biography by a former athlete I’ve never heard of,’ when I read the snippet from PW. It’s beyond glowing. I think the reviewer nearly had a personal moment when writing the review. Since I rarely read reviews from PW infused with this type of love, I go to the amazon kindle store, see the hard cover price is nearly $30, and the kindle price is about half. Sold.

The book didn’t disappoint. The writing style is raw, like the man himself apparently is in real life. The subtitle includes the word tormented for a reason, for West was a product of an unemotional, abusive home full of children his parents could barely afford or properly love. Already sensitive and withdrawn, West becomes moreso when his older brother is killed in Vietnam. Turning inward, West devotes his attention to an object: in this case, a round ball, and it becomes his life and his means out of a home he wants to leave but then can’t stand to stay away (for long). His cracked psyche manifests itself in perfectionism, a man who can’t appreciate the good because it is foreever overshadowed by the bad. This hurts himself, his wife, even the women who he slept with outside his marriage, but as he himself writes, was unable to be okay with who he was.

This alone is not what makes the book interesting, (nor was it the basketball stories, though the ones he includes had a nice balance of factoids mixed with interesting human sidenotes. Even the men I didn’t know about came alive in the scenes described). I recommend this book because it gives light to the fragility of elite players at any level–high school, college, and the pros. Elite players– lets call them life competitors, share unique traits. To understand and nurture an individual blessed with the talent, drive and ego (or lack thereof) is hard a hard task to accomplish. As West graduated from player to basketball executive, his understanding of the personalities in this arena served him (and the LA Lakers well).

I recommend West by West as a cannon for anyone person who works with, for, is married to, or is in fact, in the category of a competitive, Type A personality. The ego, drive, insecurities and challenges don’t end with the clock. That’s just the beginning. West knows that now, five kids, two marriages, umpteen decades after he started his journey. Reading about it is worth the $15.