The Lonely Perfectionists

Gatinho —  February 2, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”434180″]In recognition of Kobe Bryant passing Jerry West as the Lakers all-time scoring leader…

Jerry West was born the son of a coalmine electrician.

Kobe Bryant was born the son of an NBA journeyman.

…Raised in Cheylan, W. Virginia.

…Born in Philly, raised in Italy from the age of 8 to 14 and returned to the States for high school.

…Drafted 2nd behind Oscar Robertson

…Drafted 13th after the soon-to-be-mentor West saw him workout and crossed his fingers that no one would draft the prodigy before Charlotte’s spot.

Both Gold Medalists.

Both NBA Champions.

“Both are highly athletic scorers who are able to get their own shot any time they want one.”

The Celtics’ Red Auerbach, “You try any number of ways—play him close, loose, keep him away from the ball, and even then he’ll get his 25 or 30 points.” He was talking about number 44, but he easily could have been talking about number 24.

The Logo, Mr. Clutch, Zeke from Cabin Creek…

The Black Mamba, The Golden Child, triple-ocho…

“Most important, they are intense competitors able to battle through the worst kind of shooting night to defeat an opponent with a big shot at the end of a game. Thus, they both are Mr. Clutch.”

Both approached basketball with a fervor that can only be chronicled as an acute intensity.

It is not a great leap to think that GM West saw some of his own uncommon zeal and earnestness in the private workout he held with Bryant.

“Both are perfectionists, who have spent long hours alone perfecting every element of their games. That is why West was so excited to discover Bryant during his workout with the Lakers. The skill level alone revealed him. You don’t just get that as a gift. All the polish has to come with work.”

West was humble to a fault, but “working out his salvation with fear and trembling.” Driven seemingly by the angst surrounding failure. On the privilege of being an NBA player, “It’s hard enough if you take yourself too seriously because you can be a hero today and a bum tomorrow. It’s unbelievable. So you try hard and you hope you do well, and you enjoy it. ”

While Bryant was working to fulfill a destiny that comes to a kid who was born with a silver basketball. As a 19-year-old, he commented on mounting comparisons to Jordan. “It doesn’t bother me, I expect to be that good.”

In terms of year round commitment, they are a GM’s/owner’s/coach’s fantasy, their obsession for honing their craft motivated by something unseen under the surface.

For both “Company Time” was a foreign concept and undying dedication the norm.

“Sometimes. When he’s really keyed up it’s still 4 a.m. before he falls off.” -West’s wife

“You can’t gain conditioning without going through it. You’re going to have to feel some pain, you’re going to have to feel like your lungs are burning, and you know, you want to spit up blood, that sort of thing.” -Bryant in Men’s Fitness magazine

“Then there is the outcome. Kobe was able to experience championship success at a young age. West was teased by fate until the end of his career. That meant that perhaps no player worked in the off-season to improve as much as West pushed himself. Except that Bryant has done that too, which says to me that if West had won at an early age, it wouldn’t have stopped him. He would have found a way to make himself miserable, so that he could keep working on his game.”

If you watch West win his first and only ring after the torturous futility that a perfectionist should not have to be subjected to, there is a minuscule hint of elation on his face. Relief is the more appropriate description.

The Intensity and drive aside, each generation was lucky to watch a player that loves and respects the game deeply. And that is something that resonates with many. Consider yourself lucky to have witnessed these “Lonely Perfectionists”.

-The italicized quotes are courtesy of the author of the definitive Laker’s history, The Show, Roland Lazenby. His new book, Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon, debuts on February 23rd. Pre-order your copy today.