President Trump honors basketball legend Jerry West with Medal of Freedom

Posted at 6:35 AM, Sep 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-09 06:35:30-04

President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to famed basketball player Jerry West in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon.

President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former NBA basketball player and general manager Jerry West, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, September 5, 2019.

West — also known on the court by the nickname Mr. Clutch — will be the sixth professional athlete to whom Trump has presented the medal, the highest civilian honor in the US.

“In the years that followed he was to become a legend and made plays that will be remembered forever. I know many of them,” Trump said during the award ceremony. “Today, the silhouette of Jerry West is displayed on every uniform, court and basketball in the league.”

A silhouette of West during a Lakers game was the inspiration for the NBA’s logo.

West was drafted by the Lakers in 1960, shortly before the franchise relocated to Los Angeles. He played for the team as a point guard and shooting guard until 1974, during which he became a 14-time NBA all-star and helped lead his team to the NBA Finals nine times. He was also a co-captain on the US Olympic basketball team that went on to win the gold in 1960.

During his time in leadership for the Lakers, West helped rebuild the team, bringing on Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in the 1990s.

He later served as a coach and general manager for the Lakers. He later took on leadership roles with the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and, most recently, the Los Angeles Clippers.

West said during the ceremony that he learned he’d be receiving the Medal of Freedom when his wife read about it online.

“We were both shocked and surprised and amused. I thought it was a joke,” West said.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, were at the ceremony.

The Medal of Freedom is bestowed to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.

Trump has diverged from some of his predecessors, who took to celebrating several Medal of Freedom honorees at large, public ceremonies inside the White House. The President has instead, in recent months, chosen to hold ceremonies for individual honorees, sometimes with limited press in the Oval Office.