So, it’s the end of October and the weather’s beginning to break a bit here in La Paz. Our little high school league is coming along. Phil’s got them running a sort of baby triangle, and a decent zone defense. My little point guard’s got a crossover that’s breaking ankles all over town.
I call L.A. every few days to check on my messages. Nothing but a few calls from Jerry West to fill out a golf foursome. I liked him better when he was a silent, stoical tough guy. He must have started therapy or Prozac or something because lately he’s turned into some kinda weepy Appalachian sad-sack. I mean, calling his autobiography “My Charmed, Tormented Life?” Sure, he had it rough as a kid, but seems to me it’s been pretty sweet the past forty years at least. In his seventies but still looking good, comfortably well-off, Mr. Clutch, The Logo, Hall of Fame, one ring as a player, seven more as a GM, jersey in the rafters, statue outside of Staples, King of L.A.
And the part about having no relationship with Phil? C’mon. He fought Phil’s hiring all the way and so much as told him to fuck off before he even got here. Phil’s not the sort to stick his hand out once it’s been slapped. He had the same sort of fucked-up religious childhood, twice as many frustrations as a player, a tenth of the physical ability, crippling injuries, fucked over by management time and again, but you don’t hear him crying. Injuries limited his career and his naive honesty torpedoed his coaching opportunities at first (Jeez, maybe drop acid, but don’t write books about it), but he paid his dues in the CBA and Puerto Rico, wangled his way back into the NBA and got lucky with the Bulls job. But once there, he was ready: 13 finals and 11 rings to add to his two as a player.
Jerry was handed the Lakers after he retired, first as a coach, then ascended to GM like Christ ascending into heaven. Between the end of showtime and the Kobe/Shaq era, Buss tolerated almost ten years of disappointments but backed Jerry. The dealing he did to land Shaq, and to see the value in Kobe and land him too—that was genius. Probably the best trading deal in the history of the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Jerry, and he gave me all the breaks when my back gave out and my career went into the toilet. But, he can get so wound up in his own head, that it’s hard to deal with him. When he was a player he could get it out with playing and working out. When he was a GM, he could burn the midnight oil poring over scouting reports and watching tape. Now, he’s retired, and he’s got too much time on his on his hands. So you got punked by Bill Russell a few times too many? Can you imagine the demons that fueled that man’s defensive fire? Take my advice, keep your own. So you lead a life of quiet desperation sometimes, with black thoughts? Well, we all do, Jerry, except ours are probably quieter and a lot more desperate, and no one’s giving us six figure advances to write a book about it. Watch Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech on You Tube, then write an essay, compare and contrast. Now cancel the book tour and go play a round of golf, and be grateful.
You could do spending a summer with Phil. Swimming in an ice cold lake, greeting the sunrise with your mantra sitting naked on a rock, fly fishing those little rivers and creeks the tourists can’t find in the afternoon, fresh trout over an open fire in the evening.
Though, take my advice. Get a separate bedroom. Not only does Phil snore, he farts like a horse in his sleep.