WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West on Thursday, adding to a growing list of notable sports figures who have recently received the nation’s highest civilian honor.
West, 81, was a legendary player for the Los Angeles Lakers who also found success as an executive with the team in the 1980s. Carrying the nickname “Mr. Clutch” on the court, West’s silhouette was used to design the NBA’s logo in 1969.
Trump called West “one extraordinary American” and described him as “a great man, great player and is going to be around for a long time.”
West thanked Trump and joked that his name would “look like a misprint on this list” of other recipients.
Trump has bestowed the medal 11 times, including to six athletes, such as Tiger Woods and Babe Ruth. Past presidents have preferred politicians, artists and scientists for the award, which has also been bestowed on astronauts, actors and poets.
The president has handed out the award less frequently than his predecessors, and with less elaborate ceremonies. At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush bestowed the honor on nearly two dozen people. Barack Obama had given out 32 awards.
A star at West Virginia University, West led the Mountaineers to the 1959 NCAA championship game (where they lost to California). West also played for the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 1960.
During a professional playing career that lasted from 1960 to 1974, West led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals on nine occasions, though they actually won the title only once.
A superb shooter and smooth ball handler, West was regarded by many as a basketball artist. His silhouette has adorned the NBA’s official league logo for 50 years.
West later coached and scouted for the Lakers, and became the team’s general manager in 1982. In his various positions, West helped develop Laker teams that won five NBA titles during the 1980s, and three more championships in the 2000-2002 period.
West later worked in the front offices for the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, and, currently, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors won two NBA titles during West’s time with them.
Trump’s Medal of Freedom recipients are:
- Dr. Miriam Adelson: Doctor, philanthropist, GOP donor
- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
- Alan Page, former NFL player and state justice
- Elvis Aaron Presley, singer and actor
- George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., baseball player
- Justice Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court
- Roger Staubach, former NFL quarterback
- Tiger Woods, golfer
- Arthur B. Laffer, economist
- Robert Joseph “Bob” Cousy, basketball player
- Jerry West, basketball player