November 2, 2011

Most depressing sports autobiography of all time?


Jerry West was so good the NBA modeled its logo on him

Is basketball legend Jerry West’s new autobiography, West by West, the most depressing sports autobiography of all time? Sounds like it from the reviews. Take Dwight Garner‘s review from the New York Times:  “How unlikable is Jerry West in ‘West by West’? Let’s count some of the ways.” Which he does, concluding that “This book tastes like a spoonful of coal tar,” and that “It’s like Bob Cousy meets Arthur Rimbaud, this book. West is so hard on himself that a line from Rimbaud does come to mind: ‘I’m now making myself as scummy as I can.'”

In his review for Time Magazine, Sean Gregory says, “Despite all the gloom, West insists at book’s end that he has found “some weird and tenuous semblance of peace.” I hope he has. But after reading the previous 296 pages of West by West, I’m not sure I believe him.”

Then there’s the Los Angeles Times review by Mike Downey, which begins “Jerry West  is going to hate his autobiography. I will repeat that, for any among you who wish to call a timeout for a further review of the previous sentence. Jerry West is going to hate his autobiography.” In between, after detailing Wests claims of abuse as a child and clinical depression as an adult, he ends with this:

True story, from his book: Jerry West is in a restaurant, at least 14 more at his table. A steak is served. He thinks it’s raw. A second is brought. He thinks it’s too well done. Now, a third. Nope, too rare again. West says forget it, I’ll eat this. The manager says there will be no bill for his meal. West demands that he does get a bill. He vows never to return if no check is brought. A check is brought. West can’t believe they actually did bring him a check. He gets up and walks out. A while later, he walks back in, carrying in food from a different restaurant. “Is that a rational thing to do?” West rhetorically asks. No, but being rational is not what this person does best. And it is why he has always been — and continues to be — very, very rare.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.