As we continue the Hoop Diary Jersey Countdown we run into a player who is as iconic as they come. We’ve covered jersey numbers 55-45 and now find ourselves at number 44. Not the most popular number one would think, however 200 players have worn it over the years in both the ABA and NBA combined. Sit back and relax as we present Hoop Diary’s all-time greatest number 44.
Jerry West was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the second overall pick in the 1960 NBA Draft. He joined a Laker team who finished the 1959-60 season with a 25-50 record, losing in the Final Four of an eight team competition. On October 16, 1960 West made his debut against the Cincinnati Royals and number one selection in his Draft, Oscar Robertson. West scored 20 points and dished out five assists in his debut, a 140-123 loss. Robertson starred with 21, 12 and 10.
The Lakers managed to make the playoffs in West’s first season with just a 36-43 record in the eight-team competition, losing in the “Eastern Division Finals” (one step away from the NBA Finals) to St Louis in seven games.
West finished his rookie campaign averaging 17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 35.4 minutes per game and made the All-Star team in the West. Although his rookie season was statistically very good, the NBA Rookie of the Year Award went to Robertson who averaged a simply incredible 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists. Let’s face it, it’s hard to top those numbers.
While West had experienced a taste of success in his rookie season, his individual play and team fortunes blossomed in his sophomore year. West and running mate Elgin Baylor led the Lakers to a 54-26 record, enough to be the number one seed in the Western Division.
West’s numbers were terrific, scoring 30.8 points per game to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Baylor wasn’t too shabby either with averages of 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds per game. Together, these two players formed a deadly combo. The Lakers progressed to the NBA Finals that season, falling to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
While West’s individual talents were undisputable, his teams just couldn’t get over the hump, falling to Boston in the next two straight NBA Finals series. After a first round playoff exit in 1964, the Lakers returned to the Finals the next season to again face the Celtics…
…and lost 4-1.
The next season reaped the same result, this time 4-3.
Two season later it happened again, falling in six games.
Twelve months later, in seven again.
Note: Can you imagine being Jerry West in the modern era, losing all those Finals to the Celtics? Imagine if that was LeBron James. Yeah, drink THAT in!
West and his Lakers also lost in the 1970 NBA Finals to the New York Knicks before succumbing to Oscar Robertson’s Bucks in the 1971 Conference Finals.
But finally, in the 1972 NBA Finals the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New York Knicks 4-1 and West had his hands on the Championship trophy at last. With teammates including Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and a young Pat Riley the Lakers set a then-NBA record for wins in a single regular season with 69.
After making it to the NBA Finals an amazing seven times without winning, West finally achieved the ultimate goal in pro basketball. The elusive NBA Championship.
West and the Lakers reached the Finals the following year, falling to the Knicks in five games. It would be West’s last trip to the big dance, an astounding ninth trip with just one title to show for it. Playing his 14th and final season in 1973/74, West averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 assists in just 31 games.
When reading the achievements list for Mr Jerry West, there is no denying he is one of the all-time greats.
- 1 x NBA Champion
- 14 x All Star
- 1 x NBA Finals MVP
- 1 x NBA All Star MVP
- 12 x All-NBA Team (10 x 1st Team)
- 5 x All-Defensive Team (4 x 1st Team)
- Sixth All-time in free throws made
- 25th All-time in assists
- 19th All-time in points
- 5th All-time in points per game
- 7th All-time in minutes per game
As well as achieving all this, Jerry West was also granted the unconfirmed yet exceedingly obvious honour of having his image feature on the NBA logo. Releasing the logo in 1971 while West was still playing, the league has never officially acknowledged that it is indeed him, although anyone familiar to the game or Wen Roberts’ photo knows it is.
Finally, Jerry West was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Jerry West’s career stats: 27.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists per game.
There’s no more to be said, Jerry West is the Hoop Diary NBA Jersey Countdown’s all-time greatest number 44.
Notable Mentions: George Gervin, Derrick Coleman, Dan Issel, Pete Maravich, Drazen Petrovic (Portland) and Paul Westphal.