Friends remain puzzled by Jerry West's anguish.
A public torment that is at once spectacular and unnerving. Over the years it has abated somewhat, and the man's wife reports that during the first three rounds her husband's stomach has not required its seasonal medical attention. This is a good sign, and you don't know how good.
Once, when he was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, he didn't speak to her for three weeks. It was their first year of marriage, and she was too scared to talk to anyone but her mother about it. Later he told her it was nothing personal. It was playoff time.
It used to be that after a Laker loss, his mood might require her to seek another ride home. But when a division rival pasted the Lakers and Magic Johnson went down and out with an ankle injury, the family retreated to a movie that he actually remembers seeing. ''He even spoke to us,'' says his wife. The occasion is remembered by everyone that attended because he didn’t seem preoccupied.
Yet his world remains clouded by a strange misery that neither friends nor success can lift, a cultivated gloom that, like his clutch play for 14 Laker seasons, is practically a work of art.
This is a man who left the Lakers to blaze new trails with the Memphis Grizzlies, only to leave the Grizzlies without accomplishing his primary goal, building a contender. This past spring, West found himself back in the City of Angels to present Mitch Kupchak with the Western Conference trophy--as tears of joy streamed down face. His beloved purple would not have to stand by idly while the hated green stormed off with yet another championship, as he had feared for much of the 2007-2008 regular season. Instead, the Lakers could put up a fight, and maybe even administer a beating of the kind his Laker teams used to receive from Boston during the 1960s.