Jerry West opens up to Gary Smith about the depression that haunted him during his Hall of Fame career

In advance of the release of his autobiography West by West (out today), Jerry West talked to award-winning senior writer Gary Smith about the sources of the drive that led him to succeed and of the depression that haunted him every step of the way. The latter began in 1951, when West was 13 and his 21-year-old brother, David, was killed in Korea. West recalls (page 64): “I turned my back on my family. For me, it went from anger to futility. I didn’t understand why I didn’t get killed. The thing I used to say to myself all the time was, What did I do wrong for this to happen?… I’d think, I bet they wish David lived and I died.”

And so West’s drive to succeed—and all he accomplished—was based upon grudges, upon taking everything personally even if it was manufactured. Among the other quotes from his interview with Smith:

  • What motivated him on the court: “Just hoping someone on the other team would say something, anything, even something small and stupid, to piss you off. You’d want to embarrass that person. You’d turn from a player who was competing to a person who was a monster. That anger was like having mental steroids. Driven to the point of being crazy. I’m not sure I loved the game. I loved the competition. I’d think, I’ve got to get it out, but how can I take this out on someone who’s an equal, someone of equal size, so it’s fair?”
  • His thoughts on his lone NBA championship, in 1972: “I never felt the fulfillment when we won. All I thought about was all the times we’d lost. It’ll haunt me till I die.”
  • His lifelong battle with depression: “You feel like you’re in a forest at midnight. There have been a number of moments when I haven’t wanted to live, when I felt so hopeless. Nights I went to bed and hoped I wouldn’t wake up. Suicide? It isn’t a coward’s way out, like people say. It would take enormous courage. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just telling the truth. You’d probably never know I was in it, I mask it so well.”

Fans can also read an excerpt from West’s book by going to Sports Illustrated’s official Facebook page. For those that aren’t already fans of Sports Illustrated, click the “Like” button at the top of the page, then click the “Fans Only” option in the menu on the left-hand side.


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