Cal Legend Pete Newell Crossed Paths Repeatedly With Jerry West

Newell worked in three different capacities involving West, who died Wednesday at 86
Jerry West drives on a defender during his NBA career.
Jerry West drives on a defender during his NBA career. / Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Newell, the late Cal basketball coaching legend, had three separate interactions with Jerry West, who died Wednesday at the age of 86 years old.

First, Newell’s 1959 Cal team beat West and his West Virginia teammates, 71-70, in the national championship game.

A year later, Newell served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic team, which won gold after an 8-0 run through the tournament in which the Americans crushed their foes by an average of more than 42 points. West averaged 14.1 points for that team, which also featured future fellow Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas.

And, finally, as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers after his Cal coaching days, Newell’s role as an executive overlapped with the end of West’s playing career.

So Newell knew West well and he had great respect for him.

Back in 1999, when I was doing some yearly freelance writing for the Pete Newell Challenge basketball event, I wrote a story with Newell discussing the 14 players he identified as the game’s best-ever.

The scope of that list dated back to the game’s early days, and included the likes of basketball pioneers Hank Luisetti, George Mikan, Bob Cousy and Bob Pettit.

Among modern-era players he discussed Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Keep in mind, LeBron James was only 15 years old in 1999, Stephen Curry just 11

In between those two eras, Newell’s picks included Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, along with Robertson and West.

“Jerry was less confident in his game in college (than Oscar Robertson), and probably developed as much after he went into the NBA as anybody I’ve seen,” Newell told me.

“But he wore us out in the NCAAs. I think he was the only guy in two years who scored 30 points on us.”

Actually, the Bears held West to merely 28 points (with 11 rebounds) in their 71-70 championship-game victory.

There was a reason why Mr. Clutch, as West was called, was such an effective scorer, according to Newell.

“He had some skills that very few people had. I’ve never seen anybody explode on his jump shot like he did,” said Newell of West, who averaged 27.0 points over a 14-season NBA career and four times scored more than 30 points per game.

In spite of his success, West was famously hard on himself. 

“Jerry was always trying to improve his game. I don’t think he ever played a game where he was completely satisfied with himself,” Newell said.


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Jeff Faraudo

JEFF FARAUDO

Jeff Faraudo was a sports writer for Bay Area daily newspapers since he was 17 years old, and was the Oakland Tribune's Cal beat writer for 24 years. He covered eight Final Fours, four NBA Finals and four Summer Olympics.