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No more hillbilly talk
As David busied himself with his arsenal, Jerry settled on a couch in the sunken den and listened to Jane clank around the kitchen. It was January in Los Angeles and he was comfortable in a powder-blue alpaca sweater. The crease was fresh in his pleatless pants. He looked, as he always does, as if he had been groomed by the American Kennel Club. He would have meticulous good looks if it were not for his nose, which has been batted around some and now charts a wiggly course down the center of his face. Recently he has played in an improvised mask-guard because he had the nose broken again in a game at Detroit. Though he is used to the abuse of his nose, West's view is restricted by the mask—he was held to 47 points by the New York Knicks and just the other night to 53 by the Cincinnati Royals.
"Don't try anything new on us," he called to Jane.
"I know better," said a soft voice from the kitchen. "Meat and potatoes man, that's you." Jane came to the door with a platter of cold cuts and potato salad. "Jerry never changes," she said, "except that now he can get to sleep before 2 o'clock after a game. Sometimes. When he's really keyed up it's still 4 a.m. before he falls off. But he lost his southern accent. That's one thing Los Angeles hasn't done for me."
Hillbilly," said Jerry. " Rod Hundley used to call it pure hillbilly. He said it wasn't southern at all. One time during the Olympics in Rome I was trying to tell Coach Pete Newell something and I could see I wasn't getting through. Finally, Pete said, 'For crying out loud, Jerry, talk English!' "
West reached over and twirled the dial on the television set. "No color shows on now," he said. "But the color reception is great. I got a real good deal on this set. I've had a couple black-and-white sets given to me. And a lot of other nice things, like that shotgun for playing in the All-Star Game. Basketball has been wonderful to us. It's a good life. A lot of guys kick about the officiating and traveling, and it does get hectic, but you look at some of the salaries they're paying now and you have to' believe it's worth it—Chamberlain's making about $70,000, Russell and Baylor $50,000, Robertson $40,000, Lucas $33,000.
"We could live better, I guess. But you have to think ahead, prepare for the day you're living on half—hell, a third—what you're making now. I mean, there'll come a time when Jerry West the basketball player will be Jerry West, the ex-basketball player. Then what? I had a Pontiac Grand Prix, but now I drive a Chevrolet station wagon. It's more practical. We could use another bedroom, and the yard's not so big, but it's a good house, in a good neighborhood. Many people our own age. The fellow I fish with, Hollis Johnson, lives right around the corner."
The Wests moved into the house in 1962, Jerry's sophomore season in the NBA. When he proceeds he proceeds with caution—what General Manager Lou Mohs calls "working out his salvation with fear and trembling." Originally, when he signed with the Lakers in 1960 as their No. 1 draft choice, West insisted on a two-year contract for fear he might be cut prematurely. Mohs told him he would regret it. After one year Owner Bob Short took it on himself to tear up the contract and write a better one—West's value to the team had increased appreciably, but under the terms of the old contract his salary would not have. Anyway, before he bought the house, West went in to see General Manager Mohs. "Mr. Mohs," he said, after some preliminary beating around the bush, "would you trade me?" "Yes, I would," said Mohs. "For whom?" "For Oscar Robertson." "Anybody else?" "No." "That's all I wanted to know. I'm going to buy a house."
"Right now," said West, "I'm doing fine—the salary is good and I've been lucky to get some good endorsements—Jantzen, Wilson, Karl's Shoes of Los Angeles, a magazine ad for Chapstick, Wheaties. But you know those things can't last forever. So I invested in an orange grove, and I've got a third interest with Don Drysdale and Les Richter in a summer camp up at Mammoth Lake. It's called All-American Village. Real nice place. The first year up there I spent most of my time playing basketball with the boys and girls. I wanted to improve my dribbling, and you'd be surprised how tough it is to dribble through seven screaming teen-agers. Unbelievable.
"I know it sounds corny and all, but whatever talent I have is God-given, and I think I owe it to Him to do the best I can with what I've got. I mean, 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. I guess—I feel I've accomplished about all there is to accomplish in basketball as an individual. I was on the Olympic team, and I was an All-America, an All-Pro, and I've made the All-Star team five times [in five years]. But there is one thing I'd really like to do before I quit—I'd like to help the Lakers win an NBA championship."