At 71, Jerry West is as poised and proper as he was through 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the greatest shooting guards in basketball history—his silhouette serves as the model for the NBA logo—West made the NBA All-Star team each season of his career. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and his No. 44 jersey was retired in 1983. West rejoined the Lakers as head coach and then general manager, where among his legacies, he led the team to seven championships. Still active as a consultant and businessman, West splits his time between homes in Bel-Air, Calif., and his native West Virginia, and divides his 4,000-bottle wine collection between cellars in each. He recently discussed his passion for classic reds with Wine Spectator.
Wine Spectator: How did a guy from rural Chelyan, W.V., get into wine?
Jerry West: Coming from a town of 500 people, I wouldn't have imagined I'd develop an interest in wine. My father was an electrician for the mines. I was one of six kids. And I had no concept of what wine was. If you were a miner, you'd either drink beer or go buy a bottle—whether moonshine or something from the state-owned liquor store. But there was no drinking in our house.
WS: What's your earliest memory of wine then?
JW: Frankly, it wasn't until I got into the NBA. As I got older and more aware, I started to read books on wine. I like history and about 10 years ago I read Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure [by Donald Kladstrup]. It made me realize how important wine was to Europe.
WS: So do you prefer French wine?
JW: If someone asked, "Are you a sophisticated wine drinker?" I'd say, "Absolutely not." But I know what I like—aged French Burgundy and Bordeaux. They're so smooth and subtle. I don't like tannins. If I'm going to drink white, the Montrachets are terrific. I like some dessert wines—Château d'Yquem is my favorite. I also like Caymus, Opus and Silver Oak; Colgin is very good, and I love Pahlmeyer. Then I also love Gaja and Sassicaia. So I'm kind of an eclectic wine drinker.
WS: When did you start your wine cellar?
JW: About 12, 15 years ago. It's hard to give me anything for Christmas, but I started getting these bottles of wine and I thought it might be fun to collect. We had a storage closet where we put a cellar that got crowded, so I built one that holds about 2,500 bottles. I also have one in my house in West Virginia that has maybe 1,500 bottles. My wife and I will get a bottle, listen to music and have quiet moments. If I feel like opening a really good bottle—Château Monbousquet or DRC Grands Echezeaux—I'll open it. I love sharing my wine.
WS: How often are you in West Virginia?
JW: About three months a year. But I may have to go back more now. A friend of mine bought the Greenbrier Resort there and opened a restaurant in my name [Prime 44 West Steakhouse]. There are 100 pieces of memorabilia from my career. They have a 44-ounce porterhouse—since 44 was my number. And they're talking about a Jerry West wine. To be honest, I'm almost embarrassed. But for the restaurant, it would be cool to have a signature wine. And if they got it right, I'd drink it all the time!