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Jerry West receives Medal of Freedom at White House

By Staff | Sep 13, 2019

Former Mountaineer and Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Jerry West, left, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump, right, in the White House on Sept. 5. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The favorite son of West Virginia sports, Jerry West, was honored last week by being presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor that can be bestowed upon an individual by the president.

West, now 81 years old, is famously known for his many basketball achievements. Born in Chelyan in Kanawha County, he was a member of East Bank High School’s state championship team in 1956. He played three seasons at WVU, the most important one being the 1958-1959 season, where the Mountaineers reached the NCAA national championship game.

After graduating from WVU in 1960, West played in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers, where his first coach was Fred Schaus, who had coached him for all three seasons at WVU.

West played on the gold medal-winning United States men’s Olympics basketball team.

After retiring from the NBA, he remained in an administrative capacity with the Lakers. He was the team’s coach, the general manager, then in basketball operations and finally was a consultant. He has held similar consultant positions with the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.

Over the years, West has always paid tribute to his West Virginia roots and the part WVU has meant to his life and careers.

“First and foremost, I’m a product of West Virginia,” West has said on more than one occasion. “I’ve been coming back here for over 40 years of my life. The people in this state have been so nice to me and so loyal.

“There’s a genuine nice quality, a helpful quality to the people of the state,” West said. “I just hope it never changes.”

Possibly the most meaningful statement ever attributed to West, was that “humility” is “the greatest word in the English language.”

With West, at last week’s ceremony, was his West Virginia basketball teammate Willie Akers, another 81-year-old icon of Mountaineer basketball lore and a starter on the 1958-1959 national runner-up team.

West has said he still spends two-and-a-half to three months a year in West Virginia.

No other person from West Virginia associated with amateur or professional sports has ever received the Medal of Freedom.