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September 26, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "SportsCentury: Jerry West"

Where: ESPN Classic

When: Tonight, 5 and 9

This outstanding one-hour profile examines not only Jerry West's prowess as a player and a general manager/vice president in the NBA, but also his complex psyche.

The accolades are piled on West. "I think Jerry West was the equal of Michael Jordan," says Tommy Heinsohn. And Pat Riley says, "Michael might have played the game maybe more athletic than Jerry did, but there wasn't a better clutch player in the history of the NBA than Jerry West."

But viewers will see that self-induced stress has made life tough for West, who couldn't even attend Game 6 when the Lakers beat Indiana for the NBA championship in June before his retirement.

Back in 1969, the Lakers lost the NBA championship to the Boston Celtics, and for West the pain lingers. "It was horrible," he says. "I really wanted to quit. It was just too painful for me. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to just go out and play again. I didn't want to die again. It hurt too much."

The Lakers lost to the New York Knicks the next year, and West said he became a recluse that summer. So how great was the elation when the Lakers finally won an NBA title in 1972?

"It's like the old song, 'Is that all there is?' " he says.

Dozens of people are interviewed, including West's wife Karen, his two sisters and his brother Charles. Another brother was killed in the Korean War, when West was 12. "It was probably a day that has impacted my life forever," West says. "It changed me from being extremely aggressive to unbelievably passive, and maybe more introverted than I should have been at that point in my life."

West is hard to figure out. Is he ever happy? At the end of the profile, Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian, a former Laker beat writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner who is as close to West as anyone in the media, provides evidence that he is. "We'll have dinner usually once every two months," Krikorian says, "and he'll say, 'I sometimes look out and I can't believe it. I can't believe what's happened to this kid from Cabin Creek, and I don't understand why I was so blessed.' "

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