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Why Jerry West wanted to share his struggle with depression [Video]

November 3, 2011 |  1:09 pm

Jerry West is one of the most beloved figures in Lakers history.

A prolific scorer who embodied the ethos of hard work, his silhouette became the NBA's logo.

A general manager who built two of the league's most celebrated dynasties, a replica of his body became immortalized in bronze outside of Staples Center.

He has experienced immense success --- but has struggled deeply with enjoying its fruits.

"The high opinion others may have of Jerry West, whoever they may think he is, has never been shared by me," West wrote in his autobiography, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life."

At a book-signing at ESPN Zone in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday evening, West discussed his lifelong struggles with depression and why he decided to reveal them to the public.

"I've led a very complex life and I just thought after all of these years of trying to mask some of my problems, that it would be important to people out there -- and I've gotten a lot of cards, a lot of letters, a lot of telephone calls from some pretty prominent people thanking me for writing this book," West said.

"I had hoped it would be kind of cleansing for me to go back in time and think about some of the things that I've seen in my life that were less than desirable -- but probably propelled me to have some kind of a life I didn't dream possible."

In the book, West described his household in West Virginia as cold and lacking in affection. His father was abusive and his older brother, David, whom he loved dearly, died in the Korean War at age 22.

"David's death, I see now, truly resulted in the basketball court's becoming my sanctuary and my refuge, the place where I felt most alive, where I was most in control," West wrote.

Throughout West's illustrious career, he grappled with residual resentment from his childhood and a sometimes detrimental drive for perfection.

Even though he led the Lakers to a championship in 1972 he has never been able to get over the team's losses to the Boston Celtics and, to this day, has a hard time visiting the city.

West is a kind man who never thought he was above anyone -- for example, as an executive he forged friendships with the people who did menial labor in his office. But his overflowing humility worked against him at times.

When he won the Finals MVP award in 1969, he was upset. He didn't think he deserved it.

In the book, Magic Johnson said he was glad that West was writing an autobiography because he hoped that it would prove to be a form of therapy for him.

When asked if the writing process was indeed cathartic, West said, "Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

"I think reliving some of the things I saw in my life, talking about some of them, have not been therapeutic, but some other times I'm glad I did it."


A review of "West by West"

Greatest sports figures in L.A. history: Jerry West

Jerry West on autobiography: "It was painful to write"

-- Melissa Rohlin