Jerry West is the most iconic figure in the history of West Virginia University athletics and it can be argued that he also is the most celebrated West Virginian of all time, so it goes without saying that the items that will be included in the the Jerry West collection will hold tremendous monetary and sentimental value. West, however, can point to one specific item that he personally values the most: his 1960 Olympic Gold Medal.
West said that the medal means so much to him because he was representing the United States of America in one of the country's most turbulent times.
"People ask me what the greatest thrill of my life was. It wasn't winning an NBA championship, it was winning a gold medal," West said. "And there's a reason why, at that point in time the world was in turmoil. There was communism, the threat of nuclear war, and racism was at its height. You were fighting a cause. You were out to defeat communism. America used to be incredibly nationalistic and I don't think its that way anymore."
In the 1960 summer Olympics West averaged 14.3 points per game and helped lead the United States to a perfect 8-0 record, dominating international competition and defeating every team it played by at least 24 points en route to the United State's fifth Olympic gold medal. West participated on the Olympic team only months after graduating from West Virginia University, because in those days Olympic men's basketball teams were only comprised of amateur athletes, which is considerably different from today's model.
Adding to the value of that gold medal was the fact that it was one of the only items to survive a fire that occurred at his parents house in the early 1960s. West lamented that many things were lost in the house fire, but somehow his medal and Olympic team jersey survived.
West and Oscar Robertson co-captained the 1960 Olympic men's basketball team and represented the entire team when receiving Olympic gold medal at the closing ceremonies. To this day West can still remember the emotions he felt when they received the gold medal.
"I just wish people knew what it felt like," West said. "It almost felt like we had won a cold war. It was the greatest thrill of my life and it's the greatest piece of memorabilia that I still have"
West also spoke about a wide variety of other topics, including the impact that growing up in West Virginia has had on who he is today. When West was asked why he is now willing to part ways with some of the items he has collected throughout the years he said he hopes that it will inspire young people who are visiting West Virginia University to realize hard work, dedication and perseverance can lead them to have a great careers in their own lives.
The dedication of the Jerry West collection will take place on Monday at the Milano Reading Room in the WVU downtown campus library at 10:00 a.m. In addition to West, Willie Akers, Gordon Gee, Senator Joe Manchin and Rod Thorn will all give comments.