That does not bother West. He concedes that had he grown up off Sunset Boulevard, with his own pool and a country club, he would not have shot so many baskets either. "I know he never got many presents as a boy," Jane says. "A gun. One time he was given a gun. I think he got to college with two pairs of pants and one sports jacket. He would rather his boys have too much than too little. He got them a Honda 50 a little while ago just because it was something that he would have liked to have had as a boy."
Yet the Zeke-from-Cabin Creek hillbilly image that has pursued West ever since he came to Los Angeles is wildly distorted. The legend, embellished by time and distance, and by the same kind of smogbound rustic yearning that also gave us Hee Haw, portrays West as dirt poor, a miner's barefoot son who shot baskets by what moonlight could peek around the mountains and over the still and the outhouse.
This has embarrassed West, if only because he thinks it is unfair to his parents, who always had enough food, heat and clothes in the house. "It was a good house," says Fred Schaus, who spent many hours there, sitting on the front-porch swing, trying to convince Jerry and his mother that he should enroll at Morgantown. "It wasn't pretentious, but it was neat and clean and large enough. It was a two-story white frame."
The Wests' house was not even in Cabin Creek. That was a post office down the road. The Wests lived in Cheylan, which doesn't rhyme with anything and is only 14 miles from Charleston. West was probably closer to downtown Charleston than his house is to downtown Los Angeles today. His father was an electrician, not a miner, and young Jerry was not taught the three Rs in a little red schoolhouse. He went to East Bank High, which was a large regional school that played basketball in the toughest conference in the state.
For reasons that are not clear except that he was so skinny, and that the same pattern repeats itself at each new level he ascends to, nobody appreciated how good West was for some time. Then the coaches started coming round, embarrassing him with their backslapping hooey and occasionally shocking him with flat-out offers that exceeded what his father was making in a year.
Jerry's father died several years ago, and the house has burned down too. Mrs. West still lives in West Virginia, though. She came out to visit the Wests in their beautiful new home a little while ago, but she did not stay long. The Wests have a maid. "Mother couldn't clean the house," Jerry says. "She was going out of her mind."
The West house in Brentwood is done in Spanish d�cor. It is large and spacious with a sunken bathtub and a walk-in closet. Pets are more visible than trophies. In the corner of the living room are pictures of Jerry West Night and of the day last fall that he received an honorary degree from West Virginia Wesleyan. No jump shots. Each of the three boys—aged 11, 10, nine, which is what can happen if a wife is determined to have a daughter—has a room of his own, although they share them with thousands of bubble-gum cards.
"They come to me," West says, "and they show me a card and say, do you know this player. And if I say I do, they get all wild-eyed. But they're not very excited about me. Maybe in another player's house I'm very big. They get a certain excitement at the games, but I really don't know if they go for the game or the popcorn. Ah, they're front-runners. We're raising them just to be regular fans, I suppose."
Jane came from more substantial circumstances than Jerry. Her father ran a hardware store in Weston, W. Va. and was not impressed by athletes. Jane was extroverted and sure of herself. "Everything had always come true, just the way I wanted it to be," she says. She is bright-eyed, auburn-haired, perky pretty, almost a foot shorter than her husband. She is also quick and determined, quite comfortable and adept at being both Jane West and Mrs. Jerry West. She is organized and outgoing and, like her husband, marked by self-perspective. Perhaps, despite all their differences, that was what brought them together.
"Really, I had everything I wanted," she says. "A big happy family. Good grades, cheerleader, May Queen, all that. I was always a very optimistic person. I always thought I was going to marry Prince Charming. I was always sure of that."