President Trump honored NBA basketball legend Jerry West by awarding him the Medal of Freedom. If athletes are to be given this award, and presidents from both parties have done so, then West clearly deserves it.
West is underappreciated. When folks talk these days about great guards of the 1960s, the focus is always on Oscar Robertson. Robertson is an all-time great, but so is West.
He averaged 27.0 points per game for his career and failed to average at least 20 only in his rookie season. One of his nicknames was “Mr. Outside,” so it’s clear that, had the three-point shot been in existence, West’s scoring averages would have been considerably higher.
There’s an “advanced” stat called offensive win shares. It purports to measure how many wins a player’s offensive output contributes to his team.
It’s exceptional for a player to notch 10 win shares in a given season. West accomplished this five times. Three times, he led the NBA. This, in an era in which Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and (in the last of these seasons) Kareem Abdul Jabbar all played.
By way of comparison, Robertson, the only other guard in this batch, led the league in offensive win shares four times.
Robertson is known for the “triple-double” — double digits in point, rebounds, and assists. This sets him apart from West (and nearly very other player in NBA history). However, West was no slouch when it came to rebounds and assists. He averaged nearly 6 rebounds and 7 assists per game during his career.
What about defense? West was considered a top defender, and certainly a better one than the “Big O.” He made 4 all-NBA defensive teams. Robertson made none. And West was known as “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to hit big shots.
Speaking of honors, West made 14 all-star teams; Robertson 12. West was named to 10 all-NBA first teams; Robertson to 9.
Oh, and after West’s playing days were done, he was named NBA executive of the year twice. Next to Red Auerbach, he may be the best NBA general manager of all time.
The New York Times reports on Trump’s award of the Medal of Freedom to West here. Its report says next to nothing about West’s accomplishments on the court or in NBA front offices. Instead, the Times focuses on race and politics.
West is white. So is Bob Cousy, who received the Medal of Freedom from Trump a few weeks ago. Cousy is considered the best NBA guard of the 1950s. He made the all-star team in each of his 13 seasons in the league and was the floor leader on six NBA championship teams.
The Times intones:
[T]he awards for two white stars of a bygone — and far less racially diverse — basketball era are notable in light of Mr. Trump’s hostile relations with some of today’s black N.B.A. stars. Two years ago, the president withdrew his traditional White House invitation to a professional league’s championship team, in this case the N.B.A.’s Golden State Warriors, after the team’s best player, Stephen Curry, said that he would not attend such an event.
LeBron James, then with the Cleveland Cavaliers, responded by calling Mr. Trump a “bum,” and during the finals the next year, both stars said their teams would not participate in any ceremony at the White House. Mr. Trump responded by belittling Mr. James’s intelligence.
No championship N.B.A. team has made the customary trip to the White House since Mr. Trump became president, and after Golden State won the championship last year, the team came to Washington to visit with former President Barack Obama instead.
Trump’s hostility to particular NBA stars is, like the almost everything else with Trump, an outgrowth of their attitude towards him.
The Times then proceeds to analyze the political leanings of West and Cousy. West apparently voted for Barack Obama in 2008. However, he seems to like Trump’s tweeting.
Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to three NBA players — Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Bill Russell. All three are black (and deserving).
Did the New York Times ever note the racial disparity in Obama’s selection of basketball players for the Medal of Freedom award? I doubt it. Did it peer into the political preferences of Jabbar, Jordan, and Russell? I’m pretty sure it didn’t.
Nor should it have. Awarding the Medal of Freedom is a presidential perk, the exercise of which should not be second guessed except in extreme cases. Yet, if Obama had been receptive to honoring great white basketball players, West and Cousy might already have received the honor Trump bestowed on them.
Jerry West and Bob Cousy should be able to enjoy their award without lefty journalists implying they received it for racial/political reasons. But the New York Times is determined to inject race and politics into everything it touches, in service of its left-wing agenda.