The also-ran was a champion (2023)

The also-ran was a champion
By Bob Carter
Special to
Season after season, the Boston Celtics won the championship trophy, and Jerry West took home the consolation prize: praise for the runner-up. West would play brilliantly in the National Basketball Association playoffs, only to finish short of his goal.

In the seventh game of the 1969 Finals, West played with a leg injury and had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists -- and his Los Angeles Lakers lost. The performance moved Celtics center Bill Russell to say, "Los Angeles has not won the championship, but Jerry West is a champion."

The also-ran was a champion (1)
Jerry West could have played more than 14 seasons but didn't want to "sacrifice my standards."

Nine times in his 14 seasons West's Lakers made the finals: They lost eight, the first six times to the Celtics. He got his only NBA title in the Lakers' record-setting 1971-72 season, but championships never defined him. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound West was peerless as a clutch shooter, a player who could score, pass and defend and who raised his game in the playoffs. He averaged 29.1 points in the postseason, second all-time only to Michael Jordan's 33.4.

Fred Schaus, his coach at West Virginia University and later with the Lakers, viewed West as the perfect guard: "He is the man that has everything -- a fine shooting touch, speed, quickness, all the physical assets, including a tremendous dedication to the game."

West never played a perfect game, but that didn't keep him from trying. He made one of the most memorable shots in history, a game-tying 60-footer against the New York Knicks in the 1970 Finals, but was reluctant to talk about it. The Lakers lost in overtime, and the outcome was West's bottom line.

Years after retiring, West recalled a regular-season game in which he made 16-of-17 shots from the field, all 12 of his free throws, and contributed 12 rebounds, 12 steals and 10 blocks. "Defensively, from a team standpoint, I didn't feel I played very well," he said. "Very rarely was I satisfied with how I played."

The perfectionist averaged more than 20 points per game in every NBA season but hisfirst, and when he retired in 1974, he ranked high in the record books. He was third in scoring with 25,192 points, fourth in average (27.0), fifth in assists (6,238) and second in free throws (7,160).

West, the NBA's scoring champion in 1969-70 (31.2), was first-team all-league 10 times and made the all-defensive team four years. He was chosen for 14 All-Star Games, winning the MVP in 1972.

He was born on May 28, 1938 in Cabin Creek, W. Va., and grew up in nearby Chelyan, the son of a coal-mine electrician.

West practiced basketball incessantly at a neighbor's house, wearing gloves in the cold and developing a quick-release shot that became a trademark. He played so hard and so long his body looked frail and he had to take vitamin injections. As a senior at East Bank High School, he became West Virginia's first player to score more than 900 points and lifted his team to the state title.

More than 60 colleges showed interest in him before he chose his home state university. At West Virginia, he played for a 17-0 freshman team. On the varsity, he averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore, 26.6 as a junior and 29.3 as a senior, winning All-American honors his final two seasons.

He led the Mountaineers to three Southern Conference titles and an 81-12 record. In 1959, his junior season, West Virginia lost 71-70 to California in the NCAA final, and West won the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award after scoring 28 points in the title game.

In the summer of 1960, "Zeke from Cabin Creek" and "The Big O" -- Cincinnati star Oscar Robertson -- led the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Rome. West frequently was compared to Robertson, who was two inches taller and similarly talented.

West was drafted in the first round that year by the Lakers, who moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles before the start of the season. West and high-scoring forward Elgin Baylor, a fellow Hall of Famer, helped the franchise take off in Los Angeles. The Lakers were 25-50 in their Minneapolis finale and 36-43 in West's rookie year, when he averaged 17.6 points.

That losing season, though, didn't rest easily with West, who had played with big winners in high school and college. He just couldn't accept losing.

"He took a loss harder than any player I've ever known," said Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. "He would sit by himself and stare into space."

The Lakers went 54-26 in his second season, buoyed by West's 30.8 scoring average. They met the Celtics in the 1962 Finals, a series in which West made what he considers his play of plays. At the end of Game 3, with the series tied at 1-1, West sank two last-minute jump shots to tie the game, and with three seconds left he intercepted Sam Jones' inbounds pass, dribbled and scored a layup to give the Lakers a 117-115 victory.

"I've never forgotten it," West said. "Everyone wants to hit a home run in the ninth inning to win a big game. That was my home run."

The also-ran was a champion (2)
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He capped a similar rally the next season in a division finals game against the St. Louis. Hawks. The Lakers trailed by seven with 70 seconds remaining and tied the score with seven seconds left. West then stole the ball from Cliff Hagan and sank the winning jump shot.His most famous basket was the long-distance pitch in the '70 Finals. Trailing the Knicks by two points in Game 3, West took an in-bounds pass and shot from beyond midcourt at the buzzer.

Knicks guard Walt Frazier remembers thinking: "The man's crazy. He looks determined. He thinks it's really going in!"

The shot did go in, but the Lakers lost in overtime. A dejected West had trouble talking about his shot after the game, saying, "It doesn't really matter, does it, because we lost."

West was renowned for his ability to overcome injuries -- he broke his nose at least eight times -- and perform under pressure. When Baylor got hurt in the opener of the '65 Western Division finals, West scored 40 or more points in all six games (averaging 46.3, a record for a playoff series) to lead the Lakers past the Baltimore Bullets. He averaged 40.6 points that postseason.

In the '69 Finals, he averaged 37.9 points against Boston and was voted the MVP. Three decades later, no other player from a losing team has yet to be so honored.

He got his NBA title in the glorious 1971-72 season, during which the Lakers -- coached by Bill Sharman and led by West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich -- won a record 33 straight games over a two-month span.

West averaged 25.8 points, led the league in assists (9.7) and the Lakers finished with a 69-13 record, the NBA's best until Chicago's 72-10 mark in 1995-96. Their .816 road winning percentage (31-7) remains the best of all time. In the playoffs, they won 12 of 15 games, beating the Knicks 4-1 in the Finals.

In his last season, 1973-74, West became the third player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points, following Wilt Chamberlain and Robertson. But a groin injury limited him to 31 games and, despite a 20.3 scoring average, he retired. "I'm not willing to sacrifice my standards," West said. "Perhaps I expect too much."

He coached the Lakers three seasons (1976-79), guiding them to a 145-101 recordand into the playoffs each year. West was a Lakers scout for three years before serving as the team's general manager from 1982-94. He has been the Lakers' executive vice president since 1995, when he was chosen as the NBA's Executive of the Year.


Did Jerry West ever win MVP? ›

But now that he is exempt from the list, let's take a look at some other greats to never win MVP. Why He Didn't Win It: Jerry West was near the end of his career that season, but his team won a then record 69 games. West also lead the league in assists that season.

How many titles did Jerry West win as a player? ›

Known as "The Logo", Jerry West's legendary career ended with him unquestionably among the sport's all-time greats. Jerry West's storied career included 14 All-Star appearances, 12 All-NBA honors, five All-Defensive Teams and an NBA championship.

Who did Jerry West win a championship against? ›

On May 7, 1972, Chamberlain and West led the Lakers to a 114-100 win over the Knicks to bring the city of Los Angeles its first ever NBA championship.

Did Elgin Baylor win a championship? ›

Because his career paralleled the succession of juggernaut Boston Celtics teams in the 1950s and 1960s, Baylor never played on a club that won an NBA Championship. His best years as a scorer coincided with Wilt Chamberlain's peak years, and Baylor never captured a scoring title.

Who is the only cowboy to win MVP? ›

Emmitt Smith is the only Cowboy to win the AP's NFL MVP, all the way back in 1993 when the team's '90s dynasty was at its peak.

Has anyone won Finals MVP but lost? ›

Jerry West, the inaugural recipient, is the only player to win the award while being on the losing team.

Is Jerry West a top 10 player of all time? ›

He tallied 25,192 points during his career, which currently places him No. 22 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. However, West was the third most prolific scorer in league history when he retired in 1974.

What records does Jerry West hold? ›

He averaged 29 points a game in the postseason and holds the league record for the highest average in a single series (46 points a game in the 1965 Western Division finals against the Baltimore Bullets.)

Who lost the most NBA Finals? ›

The Los Angeles Lakers have the most series losses by a team in the NBA Finals, with 15 losses.

Who has the worst finals record? ›

Since 1962-63, LeBron James has lost the most games in the NBA Finals, with 33 losses.
LeBron JamesNBA Finals217
Jerry WestNBA Finals
Kareem Abdul-JabbarNBA Finals121
Magic JohnsonNBA Finals190
15 more rows

How many times did Jerry West win Finals MVP? ›

Jerry West won the Finals MVP award once in the 1969 NBA Finals.

Who won MVP over Wilt Chamberlain? ›

Bill Russell

Did Moses Malone win a championship? ›

Malone led the NBA in rebounding six times, and averaged more than 20 points per game for 11 consecutive seasons. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds for his career. Malone teamed with Hall of Famer Julius Erving to bring Philadelphia the 1983 NBA championship.

Did Oscar Robertson win a championship? ›

In his first NBA finals game, Robertson recorded 22 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists for the Bucks. For the first time in his career, Robertson had won an NBA championship.

Why did Elgin Baylor never win a MVP? ›

Elgin Baylor

Baylor's average of 34 points and 19 rebounds per season wasn't enough, numbers that today would almost certainly guarantee him the trophy.

What Dallas Cowboy player has 2 Super Bowl rings? ›

Roger Staubach - Known as "Roger the Dodger", he led the Cowboys to 2 Super Bowl wins.

What Cowboys players have 3 Super Bowl rings? ›

Aikman would eventually win three Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys, and led the team to four consecutive NFC championship games - 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 seasons, with victories in 1992, 1993, and 1995.

Has a kicker ever won NFL MVP? ›

Mark Moseley of the then-Washington Redskins (now, the Commanders) was voted the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1982, becoming the first and only kicker to ever receive the award.

Why did Andre Iguodala win Finals MVP? ›

Iguodala won out due to a combination of defense, statistics and the aura surrounding James. If there's one thing about the process that bugs Iguodala, though, it's the ammunition it gives Curry's critics. He even argued that it was a phenomenon unique to basketball.

Who is the youngest player to win the Finals MVP? ›

Magic Johnson is the youngest player to win an NBA Finals MVP!

Who was the only MVP from a losing team? ›

During a losing effort by the Dallas Cowboys to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, Howley became the first defensive player to win the Super Bowl MVP award. He also became the only player in NFL history to win the MVP trophy from the losing team, which still stands today.

Who does Larry Bird think is the greatest of all time? ›

Larry Bird is one of the greatest players in NBA history; however, even he admits he never saw anyone like Michael Jordan and believes he was on a different level than any other player in NBA history.

Who is better Larry Bird or Bill Russell? ›

There's no knocking Russell or Bird. They both brought tons to the table when they were in Boston. Russell has, by far, the better resume with his 11 championships and five MVP Awards. Bird, however, was the better player.

Who was the goat before Jordan? ›

The best basketball player ever before MJ appeared was probably Wilt Chamberlain as he was the best scorer the league ever witnessed before Michael Jordan surpassed Wilt's career scoring average.

Who is the greatest wide receiver Jerry? ›

Rice is the career leader in most major statistical categories for wide receivers, including receptions, receiving touchdowns, receiving yards, scrimmage yards, and total touchdowns, holding the postseason records for these statistics, and once held the single season records for yards and touchdowns.

Does Jerry West get royalties? ›

The short answer is "No." That's also the long answer, because the NBA won't admit that it's West on the logo. “I knew a long time ago," West told Grantland in 2011 about his image being used in the design. "[The NBA] would always say it's an urban myth."

Who never lost an NBA championship? ›

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are among the players who never lost in the NBA Finals.

Who has the most turnovers in NBA history? ›

LeBron James

What if LeBron never lost in the Finals? ›

Winning 10 titles would put him next to Boston Celtics greats Bill Russell, who has 11, and Sam Jones, who has 10, as the players with the most number of championships. To some, that would cement his status as the game's greatest player, especially considering the talent of the teams he faced in the Finals.

Who went 8 and 0 in the finals? ›

Below, we present a gallery of all the players who never lost in the NBA Finals, led by John Havlicek, KC Jones and Tom Sanders, who went 8-0 in the league's championship series.

Who has the most 50 point finals games? ›

Other Great NBA Finals Performances

Bob Pettit (50 points in 1958) is the only other player to record a 50-point game in the NBA Finals. As you might expect for someone with such an illustrious career in the NBA playoffs, Michael Jordan dominates most of the Finals leaderboard.

Has a team ever gone 16 0 in the finals? ›

2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers.

Who is the oldest NBA Finals MVP? ›

At 38 years and 54 days old, Abdul-Jabbar was named Finals MVP, the oldest in NBA history. He also claimed the honor in 1971 at age 24.

Who has the highest scoring average in NBA Finals history? ›

Michael Jordan has put up the most points per game in an NBA Finals, with 41.0 per game.

Who is in the NBA logo? ›

Jerry West, the player depicted in the NBA logo, is one of the most important figures in the history of the Lakers and the league as a whole. Of all the colours of the rainbow, green is without doubt Jerry West's least favourite. And it's little wonder.

Has any NBA player won 3 MVPs in a row? ›

Larry Bird is the most recent player to win three straight MVP awards. Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlin and Bill Russell are the only players to ever do it. 10,490 people like this.

Who is the youngest MVP in NBA history? ›

Twelve years ago, Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP - Sports Illustrated Chicago Bulls News, Analysis and More.

Who has the most MVPs in NFL history? ›

Peyton Manning has the honor of having won the most NFL MVP awards in the history of the league. Manning won the award four times with the Indianapolis Colts before adding his fifth as the QB of the Denver Broncos.

Was Moses Malone better than Kareem? ›

Moses Malone averaged 25.3 points, 15.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 34 games versus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his career.

Who all did Robert Horry win a championship with? ›

He won seven NBA Championships with three different teams (two with Houston Rockets, three with Los Angeles Lakers and two with San Antonio Spurs).

Who did Sam Cassell win a championship with? ›

He won titles with Houston in '94 and '95 and earned an All-Star selection in '04. Cassell has served as an assistant coach since retiring as a player in 2009.

Who has the most triple doubles in NBA history? ›

Russell Westbrook

Did Jason Kidd win a championship? ›

2010–2012: NBA championship and Sportsmanship Award

Kidd won the NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks on June 12, 2011, defeating NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat.

Did Steve Nash ever make the finals? ›

He helped the Warriors advance to four NBA Finals appearances, winning two NBA Championships (2017 & 2018). Steve Nash was born on February 7, 1974, in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was raised in Victoria, British Columbia, where he attended Saint Michaels High School.

Did Reggie Miller ever win MVP? ›

But despite retiring as the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made and being selected to five All-Star teams, Miller only received MVP votes in two seasons, 1998 and 2000, finishing outside of the top 10 both times.

Was Drew Brees ever MVP? ›

Brees tied a Super Bowl record with 32 pass completions and won the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.

Will Derrick Rose go to the Hall of Fame? ›

But with other Hall of Famers whose careers were shortened and came back in limited roles, like Bill Walton and Grant Hill, Rose's career body of work is manifestly Hall Fame worthy. Obviously, there is the Most Valuable Player award.

How many times was Jerry West MVP? ›

Jerry West didn't win the MVP award in his career.

What are the most assists in a game by a rookie point guard? What team has the best record as an underdog since 2017-18?

Why Jerry Rice never won MVP? ›

The reason? It's in the numbers. While Jerry Rice accumulated the numbers that justified his candidacy for the award, Joe Montana and Steve Young posted more impressive numbers, because quarterbacks get credit for not only that receiver's yardage, but everyone they complete a pass to.

Has a wide receiver ever won MVP? ›

A wide receiver has never won the NFL MVP award. In 1998, Randy Moss' signature year, he got just four votes for MVP.

Who was the last wide receiver in the NFL to win MVP? ›

No receiver has ever won the NFL's MVP award.

Who has the most finals Mvps? ›

For example, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP a record six times. LeBron James follows suit with four wins, while Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Tim Duncan each earned the honor three times.

Has a kicker ever won MVP? ›

Mark Moseley of the then-Washington Redskins (now, the Commanders) was voted the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1982, becoming the first and only kicker to ever receive the award.

Who has the weakest MVP seasons? ›

Bob Pettit has the worst record by an MVP in a season, with a record of 33-39 in 1955-56.

Who was the last non quarterback to win MVP in the NFL? ›

Ten years after Adrian Peterson became the last non-quarterback to win NFL MVP honors, another Vikings player has a chance to beat out a QB for the award — and make history at his position.

What NBA player has been to the most finals? ›

Bill Russell

Has a non QB ever won Super Bowl MVP? ›

Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley made history in Super Bowl V when he became the first non-quarterback and only member of the losing team to win Super Bowl MVP. Howley, an original member of the “Doomsday Defense,” recorded two interceptions and forced a fumble in the Cowboys' 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts.

Who is the youngest MVP in NFL history? ›

Swann won the MVP award in Super Bowl 10 just under two months before his 24th birthday. However, Oakland Raiders running back Allen won the award in Super Bowl 18 when he was 12 days younger than Swann. Therefore, Allen is the youngest Super Bowl MVP in history.

Has a safety ever won MVP? ›

The last player to win this award that wasn't a QB was RB Adrian Peterson in 2012 and before him it was linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. No receiver, tight end or safety has ever won this award.

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