Jerry West rooting against but willing to defend LeBron James

ByBrian Windhorst via ESPN logo
Sunday, June 5, 2016
ESPN

OAKLAND, Calif. -- As a member of the Golden State Warriors' front office,Jerry West is hoping to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. If that happens, West will feel a kinship with James that few can relate to.

James is trying to avoid becoming the fourth player in Finals history to lose five series. No one lost more than West, whose 1-8 Finals record with the Los Angeles Lakers dogs him to this day. Because of that, West has found himself repeatedly defending James' honor and did so again Saturday with the Warriors holding a 1-0 series lead.

"That's the most ridiculous thing. If I were him, I'd probably want to strangle [detractors]," West said. "He's carried teams on his shoulders. He's been to the Finals six straight times. How many times has he been the favorite? None. Zero. Grossly unfair to him.

"I don't want to sound like Donald Trump, but it's hard for me to believe someone doesn't recognize his greatness. This guy does everything, and he's competitive as hell. Frankly, I wish people would leave him alone."

After losing in the 2011 Finals, James reached out to West to discuss how he coped with losses during his career. West told James a story about how he almost punched out a man who heckled him as he was jogging in Los Angeles in the summer after a Finals loss. And West told LeBron how rewarding overcoming the scrutiny can be.

"It's no fun to get there that many times and not get the results you want, regardless of how you played," West said. "In the playoffs, the best players are supposed to play better. I did. It made no difference."

West compared getting to the Finals and not winning to being a child walking by the window of a candy store, seeing the candy and not being able to have any. He said that three times after Finals defeats he wanted to quit the game.

James, who has talked about going into bouts of depression after Finals losses, said he can relate. He is 2-4 in the Finals in his career.

"I think it bothers me in the fact that's how competitive I am," James said. "[Going] 3-1 still bothers me in state championships [in high school]. It's just the competitive side. If I lose in a game of H-O-R-S-E to my son, it's going to bother me. But as far as how people look at it and things of that nature, that doesn't bother me. I mean, my career will speak for itself when I'm done with it, no matter what my Finals record [is]. Some people never get here at all. I'm at seven up to this point. Heck, that's over half my career I've been in the Finals. So that doesn't bother me. What would bother me is if I went out there and didn't give it everything I've had."

Earlier in the postseason, James spent time before games and while traveling reading West's autobiography, "West on West." James has read the book several times.

"It was flattering [he was reading my book]," West said. "He knows that I like him. He knows I admire the way he plays."

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