Jerry West Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom at White House

Mere weeks after Bob Cousy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump, one of the Boston Celtics legend’s biggest NBA rivals was granted the same honor in the Oval Office. On Thursday, Jerry West, who won a championship as “Mr. Clutch” while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers before embarking on a decorated career as a basketball executive, became the sixth athlete to be awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor at the White House during the Trump Administration.

The 81-year-old Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer learned about the distinction when his wife, Karen, read about it on the internet.

“We were both shocked and surprised and amused,” Jerry said during his acceptance speech. “I thought it was a joke.”

Jerry, who currently serves as a consultant in the Los Angeles Clippers’ front office, was joined at the ceremony by two government officials from his home state of West Virginia—Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin—along with his wife and five sons. They include former Lakers player personnel director Ryan West and Golden State Warriors director of basketball operations Jonnie West, who was accompanied by his wife, LPGA star Michelle Wie. 

The Lakers selected Jerry, a two-time consensus first-team All-American at West Virginia University and gold medalist at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, with the No. 2 pick in the 1960 NBA draft. He went on to earn 14 All-Star selections, 12 All-NBA nods and five All-Defensive honors. He appeared in nine NBA Finals, winning a title with the Lakers in 1972 and taking home the first-ever Finals MVP honors in 1969—and still standing as the only person to do so on the losing side.

Along the way, Jerry literally became an icon in the league. A silhouette of him dribbling serves as the NBA’s logo.

After retiring as a player in 1974, Jerry went on to coach the Lakers for three seasons (1976-79) before moving into the team’s front office. He would go on to win eight championships in personnel roles—six with the Lakers as a scout and then general manager, and two with the Warriors as an executive board member—while also helping the Memphis Grizzlies make their first playoff appearance in franchise history in between his stints in California.

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.