Jerry West achieved fame and fortune as one of the greatest college and professional basketball players ever to play the game. Later, his coaching and administrative abilities would take him to the top of his profession.But nothing could compare to the feelings he experienced in August when he returned to his home state for the dedication of a roadway bearing his name.
In an emotion-packed ceremony at Morgantown’s Riverfront Park Pavilion, West helped unveil a sign that read”Jerry West Boulevard,”that was later placed on a stretch of road that runs by WVU ’s Old Field House and the comfortable home that he lived in during his playing days at WVU in the 1950s.
Surrounded by his wife, four of his five sons, two sisters, best friend and former teammate Willie Akers, surrogate mom Ann Dinardi, 94, and many friends and associates, West said he would never forget this day.
“There is nothing I could write to tell you how I feel right now. This is just a great, great honor,”he said, choking back tears,”and obviously very touching.”
“It’s ironic,”he continued.”I was a freshman at West Virginia University in 1956. And that was 44 years ago.”West wore No. 44 on his WVU jersey and later with the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired in August after a 40-year
career with the Lakers.
Under sunny skies with a glistening Monongahela River behind him, West accepted award after awarda Distinguished West Virginian award from Governor Cecil Underwood; a Distinguished Service Award from President
David Hardesty; a WVU team jersey bearing No. 44 from former teammate and now head basketball coach Gale Catlett; a key to the city from Deputy Mayor Ron Justice; a proclamation from state Senator Michael Oliverio II; and more.
A touching tribute came from David and Susan Judy of the Grant County Mountaineer Parents Club as they presented Jerry and Karen West with a handmade blanket inscribed with the No. 44 and WVU logo in a heart.
“Mr. West, the warmth you will find in this blanket comes from the hearts of all West Virginians,”David Judy said.
Calling him a national hero and role model, Hardesty noted that despite his success West remains”a true West Virginian, dedicated to the state and its people.”In fact, it is his image that serves as the silhouette on the NBA logo.
Gov. Underwood said”We have no way to measure heart and class, but in those categories, Jerry West is in a league all his own.”
Still humble and shy, West Virginia’s native son signed autographs and posed for pictures with the many fans that came to share this special day with him.
He noted that the many cards and letters he received from young boys and girls during his playing days and since meant the world to him.More than the high school championship he won at East Bank? More than his four-year run as a Mountaineer when the team never lost a home game and went to the 1959 national championship? More than the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal in Rome? More than the 14 All- Star seasons with the Lakers, which included an NBA championship? More than the six national titles as a Lakers executive?It seems so. And now, this tribute.
Underneath his sunglasses, tears glistened. The young man from Cabin Creek, population 500, was home among family and friends. And it was something special.
Side note:The City of Morgantown also recently named a street for another of its favorite sonsthe loveable actor and Morgantown native Don Knotts.”This town is certainly big enough for a Jerry West Boulevard and a Don Knotts
Boulevard,”one observer remarked.