Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Thursday from President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Trump tweeted on June 1 that West would receive the nation’s highest civilian honor “for his outstanding career, both on and off the court.”
During the ceremony, Trump touched on highlights of West’s playing career, then later as the Lakers’ general manager.
“He succeeded in securing both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, two truly great players, creating an unstoppable force in the NBA,” Trump said.
The president also hailed West’s work on behalf of veterans.
“Jerry works harder than just about anybody I can imagine,” he said.
West thanked Trump for the honor, humbly saying “my name is going to look like a misprint” on the list of Medal of Freedom recipients.
He recalled times in his youth when he would look out at the Appalachian Mountains and “wonder if I (will) ever make it to the top of that mountain.”
“Will I see the other side? Well, I did make it to the other side. My dreams have come true,” he said.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom adds to the series of honors the 81-year-old West has received, which also include a statue outside Staples Center, a bronze plaque in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Memorial Court of Honor, selection in 1996 as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in conjunction with the league’s 50th anniversary and election to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Born May 28, 1938, in Chelyan, West Virginia, West’s shooting and defensive skills made him a dominant player on the high school, college and professional levels.
West became the first player in West Virginia history to score 900 points in a season as a senior at East Bank High School in East Bank, West Virginia, in the 1955-56 season, averaging 32.2 points per game and leading the Pioneers to the state championship.
West was a two-time first-team All-American at his final two seasons at West Virginia University. He was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the 1959 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, when he led the tournament in scoring with 160 points, including a game-high 28 in the Mountaineers 71-70 loss to California in the championship game.
West was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers with the second choice in the 1960 NBA draft, shortly before their move to Los Angeles. The sharp-shooting 6-foot-3 guard nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to make late game-winning shots, played his entire 14-season NBA career for the Lakers, helping lead them to the NBA Finals nine times and the championship in the 1971-72 season.
“I played basketball because of my love of the game and enormous competitive desire to win,” West said at 2011 ceremony when his statue outside Staples Center was unveiled. “I played for the fans of Los Angeles, particularly for my teammates. I was driven by a fierce desire and determination.”
“Every time I put on a Laker uniform, it filled me with immense pride and accomplishment. I was blessed to play in this great city for these great fans.”
When West retired in 1974, he was the third-leading career scorer in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, with 25,192 points in 932 games.
West rejoined the Lakers organization in 1976, spending three seasons as their coach and the next three as a scout.
West was appointed as the Lakers general manager before the 1982-83 season. His personnel moves and trades helped the team to NBA titles in the 1984-85, 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1999-2000 seasons. His most memorable deals include the 1996 trade that brought Kobe Bryant to the Lakers.
West left the Lakers in 2002 to become president of basketball operations with the Memphis Grizzlies. He was selected as NBA Executive of the Year in 2004 and retired in 2007.
West was an executive board member with the Golden State Warriors for six seasons through 2017, then joined the Los Angeles Clippers as a consultant that year.
West is the eighth basketball figure to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom following Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Bob Cousy and coaches John Wooden, Pat Summitt and Dean Smith.
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