February 4, 1973
By A. L. Hardman
Jerry West, if you take a Los Angeles scribe's word for it, no longer considers himself a West Virginian. He has lived 13 years in Los Angeles now and feels that he has a right to be called a Californian.
But the great L. A. Laker basketball star still has great concern for the folks back fa West Virginia, says he has long since stopped hurting when people call him "hillbillie" because he says "hillbillies are the nicest people in the world."
Mark Schaul, a valued friend, was kind enough to pass along the piece, authoried [sic] by John Flynn, which takes some swipes at our state but also brings out some interesting thoughts of Jerry West.
Flynn calls Jerry the "tomorrow for West Virginia the same as Joe Louis was tomorrow for blacks, the same as Roberto Clemente was the tomorrow for Puerto Ricans and the same as John Kennedy was tomorrow for a nation."
Flynn goes on:
"The history of West Virginia's neglect and its fierce, blind pride was etched in Jerry West's face. In his crooked, broken nose, in his razor-thin features but, most of all, in his searing, hungry eyes.
"He was the one West Virginian who did something better than anyone else, or at least West Virginians from Cabin Creek to Osage thought so. The mention of Oscar Robertson in the same breath with Jerry West was worth a punch in the nose.
"Time Magazine called Jerry a 'Country Slicker' and sold more copies than ever before in his little slice of Appalachia. Milton Gross of the New York Post suggested that Oscar Robertson was a superior player and suddenly became as infamous as the company store owner.
"Perhaps it was justice that gave West Virginians Jerry West. Politicians stole them blind, the mines maimed and brutalized them and the nation forgot them, but Jerry West never let them down.
"Since then, of course, Jerry West has become the property of white America. He is, in fact, the greatest of white athletes - No. 44, the number which white youngsters put on their backs with the same reverence as black youngsters who wear No. 32.
"Age, assisted by $200,000 contracts, has removed some of the hawk and hunger from his face, but there is a new awareness, a new depth that Jerry West never had before.
"He now realizes, for instance, the impact which he had on two million people and perhaps he is sorry that the realization may have come too late for him to contribute as much as he might have had he been aware 15 years ago.
"I don't consider myself a West Virginian any longer because I have lived in Los Angeles the past 13 years,' he declared, 'but I might have been able to contribute more when I was young if I had not been basically a shy person.
'"It took me a good many years to realize what I stood for in the state, probably because I never believed the things written about me, and even now, after I've been in L.A. for 13 years, it's strange the allegiance these people still feel for me,' he added.
"In his late teens and early 20's, Jerry West was like most young West Virginians - striving mightily to find an avenue to escape. Only now that he has reached his mid-30s and is in the twilight of his career, does he look back and admit that he, like the others who ran, might have copped out.
"Remembering that his father never made more than $5,000 in a year, Jerry looks at his earnings, a half-million dollars in 1973 alone, and realizes the silliness of it.
"'My money makes no sense at all,' he said. "Where, for Christ's sake, is the logic of paying a guy as much as I'm paid for dribbling a ball up and down the floor?
"There isn't any logic, of course, but that money has insulated Jerry West and his family from ever having to worry about where the next buck's coming from, but it hasn't removed memories from his mind.
"He still is called a hillbilly and mountaineer - 'more often, in fact, than anyone would imagine,' he noted - but that stopped bothering him a long time ago.
"'I've never been ashamed of being a hillbilly,' said Jerry. 'I just tell people who call me that the nicest people in the world are hillbillies. But what can I say after I've said that?
"'West Virginians and the poor whites of Appalachia are a forgotten mass, a study, really, in frustration. There hasn't been anything done for them and for this I blame the politicians.
"'Revolution and rebelling has brought the blacks' problems to the front. I admit that the blacks have been maligned, but no more than my people. Maybe they, too, will rebel one of these days. At least they have a right to,' added West who considers himself a conservative on most issues.
"West has tried to help through scholarship fund, 'But what I might be able to contribute, even though I have been blessed financially, is not worth a hill of beans in the face of West Virginia's problems,' he noted.
"Once again, however, he seemed to be forgetting that there is no dollar value on hope and that, even today, is what Jerry West stands for."