Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review of "West by West"

I checked this book out from the library hoping to learn a little bit more about Jerry West the man and Jerry West the basketball legend.  This book delivered on one of those two goals. Here is my review of "West by West."

“West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” by Jerry West and Jonathan Coleman

Basketball, professional, Lakers, autobiography

Publish date:
October 19. 2011

327 pages

3 of 5 stars (okay)

Today in our celebrity-obsessed culture it can be forgotten that entertainers and athletes can be human too.  One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Jerry West, shows his humanity in this candid autobiography written with Jonathan Coleman.  He not only shares his flaws with readers, but also does not make excuses nor shows regret for how his life turned out. Nonetheless, West manages to put together a book that is equal parts basketball and personal revelations that will leave the reader in various emotional states.

While he has been driven throughout his basketball career as both a player as for the Los Angeles Lakers and later as a coach and general manager for the Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, he reveals himself to be a person who has a hard time getting close to others, would succumb to depression and had a hard time dealing with the death of his brother, who was killed in action serving in the Korean War. 

For readers who want to know a lot about his basketball career, there surprisingly was little mention of this by West in the book.  Yes, he does discuss the 1971-72 season when the Lakers won it all and some of the disappointment when the Lakers would often finish second to the Boston Celtics several years in the 1960’s.  He spends more time talking about his relationships with team owner Jerry Buss and the coaches (Phil Jackson) and players (especially Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant) during his time as the general manager of the Lakers.  This was a disappointment to me as I didn’t get to see West in his prime as a player, and I would have liked to learn more about that time in his life.

He does spend an inordinate amount of time talking about his flaws – everything from the failure of his first marriage to his inability to get close to people. Of course, he talks about the abuse he suffered from his father and how he succumbed to some of the temptations that every professional athlete encounters. These passages can be depressing at times. This is not meant to be interpreted as West is feeling sorry for himself.  Rather, he is exposing himself for all to see. 

Overall, this is an enormous undertaking for the man whose silhouette is the logo of the NBA.  It cannot be easy to bare one’s soul as West does in this book. However, the manner in which this is told is very choppy and does not flow very well.  Basketball fans who want to learn more about West’s career would do better to search elsewhere, but readers who want to delve into the mind of the man nicknamed “Mr. Logo” might enjoy this one.

Pace of the book: 
Good overall.  While at times the book shifts back and forth between West’s basketball career and his personal life without following a timeline, it reads fairly well and at a good pace. Because of the lack of a timeline, it feels choppy during some chapter. At times it also can be tough to read because the reader can feel West’s pain, but it doesn’t slow the book down.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, despite the lukewarm rating. Fans of the NBA or of West will certainly be interested in the book but readers who may not be sports fans but instead want to delve into the psyche of a driven man will also enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

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