During his illustrious playing career, Jerry West was often thought of as a hard-luck case. Celebrated, sure, but always a bridesmaid as his Los Angeles Lakers routinely fell short in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics. Fans at the time, mindful of his frustration, often allowed what was categorized as "moodiness" from West. Why wouldn't he be, after coming so close but failing to get a ring year after year?
It turns out that "moodiness" doesn't quite cover it. West revealed to HBO this week that he was suffering with depression throughout his NBA career as a player, coach, and executive. And the genesis behind his condition is terrifying.
West says his West Virginia childhood was devoid of love and filled with anger as a result of his abusive father, who left him feeling tormented and worthless.
"I would go to bed feeling like I didn't even want to live," West says in a segment airing Tuesday on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
"I've been so low sometimes and when everyone else would be so high because I didn't like myself."
In the HBO interview, West describes his father beating him with a belt, saying, "It was brutal."
He says he never knew what would set his father off. It wasn't until his father hit his sister that West found the courage to stand up to the man that had abused him. At 12, West kept a shotgun under his bed and threatened to use it on his father if the abuse didn't end.
That edge continued on from childhood and into his NBA career. West may have had a starting role in the NBA's all-time backcourt until Michael Jordan came along, but his drive never let up, even into his time as a coach and then Laker executive. Never easy with his nerves, West famously was too mentally exhausted to watch the Laker dynasty he constructed win its first NBA title in 2000, preferring to spend the deciding Game 6 in a movie theatre watching the film "Gladiator."
Since leaving the Lakers later that summer following clashes with then-head coach Phil Jackson, West helped put together a winner as Memphis Grizzlies GM before retiring from day-to-day operations to become an adviser for the Golden State Warriors. According to the HBO interview, West has declined therapy but does take medication for his illness.
The Hall of Famer's book, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," is in stores on Wednesday.
- Jerry West