Jerry West: Chuck Person's Shot Doctor
Whenever Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person – known as “The Rifleman” in his playing days for his shooting skill and propensity – runs into Lakers legend Jerry West, he says the same, simple thing: “Thank you.”
You see, when Person was 15 years old, he traveled about two hours from his hometown of Brantley, Alabama, to Auburn University for then head coach Sonny Smith’s basketball camp. Who else but Mr. Clutch happened to be a guest coach/speaker that summer? Person, then a 6-4 post player who’d soon grow to be 6-8, revealed the massive impact West had on his future.
"Jerry West was the guy who basically taught me how to shoot properly,” Person recalls some 32 years later. “The drills he did on the floor that day and the speech he gave had a great impact on my life. I remember everything that he had to say about the game and about the art of shooting and how to be successful if you had the opportunity to advance your career.”
When Person said he remembered “everything” West said and demonstrated, he was being literal.
“Shooting starts with a good foundation: a good lead foot, a good heel to toe strike and flattening of the second foot on the floor. You must get your knees into it, get your butt down and your elbow up to relax your upper body, which in turn helps you push up and out through the shot. With a good, nice follow through, you should see the ball reach its destination.”
It wasn’t just the technical aspects of shooting that impacted Person, but also the emphasis on hard, continuous work. West talked about that over and over again to the group of kids, saying that preparation is the key to anything that you do, and that basketball wasn’t any different.
Person, who went on to star at Auburn before a successful 13-year playing career that preceded his coaching, remains thankful.
“Every time I see him I always remind him of the influence he had on me,” Person explained. “Jerry is a straightforward type of guy who tells it like it is, and he says to me, ‘Young man, you don’t have to thank me every time you see me.’ But I counter with, ‘I have to, because you changed the course of my life, what I became versus what I would have become.’ I couldn’t see any ending that’s been as good as what I have now without Jerry’s direction back at the camp.”
Now, Person readily acknowledges that natural talent and hard work played a feature role in his development. But he’s thoroughly convinced of the importance that just a few minutes of West’s knowledge and information – considering the source – had upon him.
“Obviously the athlete has to put in the work in order to reach the destination one strives for, but when we go back through the history of our league and talk about athletes being role models, we should realize that if we refuse even one time to impact a kid’s life, it can impact a person’s life forever,” Person concluded. “In that one moment, if Jerry West decided to cancel his trip to Auburn for that camp, that would have impacted a lot of kid’s lives, especially mine. I think after that day, I knew exactly what I wanted to be, how I needed to get there and what I needed to do to accomplish all my goals. That speech, those drills from West were extremely resounding and impactful on me, and I still use what I learned there as I teach young players in today’s game.”