On This Day in Sports History: Jerry West Loses in National Championship

Jerry West playing for the Lakers.
Jerry West playing for the Lakers. / Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Jerry West is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Hell, his silhouette is used by the NBA as their official logo. But while he enjoyed an unforgettable career, he also suffered many painful losses, perhaps none more so than when his West Virginia Mountaineers lost to Cal by one point in the NCAA Tournament final on March 21, 1959.

A West Virginia native, West carried the Mountaineers to the title game, averaging 33 points in the tournament heading into the title game. There, he helped West Virginia build a 13-point lead in the first half and had them up by one point with less than 30 seconds remaining. But Cal center Darrall Imhoff put his team up by one on a tip-in with 17 seconds left and the Golden Bears held on to win the game, 71-70. West was named Most Outstanding Player for the tournament.

It was a crushing loss for West, who said, "I felt like we let the state down and all the people that supported us,” but it was far from his only tough defeat. West's Lakers suffered eight losses in the NBA Finals, the most by an individual player in NBA history, before he finally won it all in 1972 near the tail end of his career.

For Cal, it was their first and only national championship in basketball, though it did return to the title game the next year. Yet, everyone remembers that championship as the first of many what-ifs for West.

Below are some highlights from West Virginia's 1958-59 season, including from the national championship, which start at 12:05.