Mondays With Murray: Zeke From Cabin Creek

Our 2019 Great Ones Award honoree, Jerry West, had some very kind words to say about Jim and the JMMF. He also expressed that he had one particular Jim Murray column that was his favorite. We call it Zeke From Cabin Creek and it is this week’s MWM classic.

Enjoy!

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FEBRUARY 2, 1962, SPORTS

Copyright 1962/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Zeke From Cabin Creek

  MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — The state of West Virginia is America’s poorhouse, an area of such permanent arrested economic development that its only out is to declare war on the United States and try to lose.

  Even the Confederacy didn’t want it. Its oil fields were so shallow, they played out as soon as the first Texan stopped for gas. There are sections of the state where they don’t stare if you’ve got shoes — but they do if you’ve got laces in them.

  The other night, as the Lakers rolled in over ice-slick cobblestone streets, Rudy La Russo mondaysmurray2looked at the weathered brick buildings and shuddered. “I got to pick my wife up something from Morgantown,” he leered. “Why not Morgantown?” someone cracked.

  The people look like they’re on their way to a hard times party and maybe they are. The last time fresh money came in, a couple of guys were trying to buy a pass to the White House with it.

  He could be the best backcourt player in basketball history, but he looks as if he had just shinnied down a rope from the Mayo Clinic. He’s so thin you could mail him. If he didn’t enter with the rest of the basketball team, they’d make him sit in the children’s section.

  He’s had so many head colds he should play in a scarf and mustard plaster. His nose has been broken so many times he gets air by a detour. You can follow him home every night by a trail of Kleenexes. He sneezes more often than a TV cold tablet commercial. When the familiar question “which one’s West?” was asked at the game the other night, the laconic answer was “wait till the third period. He’ll be the one who looks like he died five minutes ago.”

   In a league largely populated by pachyderms, Jerry West frequently seems to disappear in mid floor like a small boy swallowed up in a forest. But when he comes out again, he usually has the ball — and often the basket.

  He has been injured so many times and gotten off the bench to play so well, the coach is afraid of the day he shows up healthy. “The night he comes on in crutches, the scoring record will disappear,” is his prediction.

  At the end of a season, Jerry is so under-weight he would have to carry lead to ride in the Kentucky Derby. But the other teams would just as soon see a live vampire in the rafters as see Jerry West go up for a jump shot.

  The jump shot itself is a relatively new technique in the still-infant sport of basketball but, as practised by West, it may be generations before it can be made any more perfect. West doesn’t simply soar with the ball — he seems to hang there like a kid who has leaped to a fence, chinned himself and hung over for a long look. It is the nearest thing to a defiance of the law of gravity in sports.

  In the rib-cracking game pro basketball has become, West cannot hope to crash through like an Elgin Baylor or Tom Heinsohn or other resident bull elephants. He zig-zags his way to the basket like a mosquito. It still counts two points. One night this year, they added up to 63, No other backcourt man ever racked up that many before and the chances are good only one will ever do it again — Jerry West.

  Around the league, basketball buffs are stunned at the improvement in West’s play. “He’s gorgeous,” Nick Kerbawy, ex-general manager of the Pistons, exclaimed spontaneously as West single-handedly tied the score against Detroit with 10 seconds to play and then ran away from them in overtime.

  In the West Virginia University field house the other night, where they consider Jerry West should have his own star in The Flag, the ancient field house almost tottered on its supports. He came off the bench, limping with a charley-horse on which half his weight in bandages had been wrapped, dumped in 46 points, brought the team from a 10-point deficit to a regulation tie and then ran Oscar Robertson ragged in the overtime to all but cinch a Laker conference championship.

  The adulation afterward embarrassed him to the point of donning a beard and dark glasses. Hot Rod Hundley, who would head for the Ed Sullivan Show on the next bus if he hit 46, took West with him to a university practice that afternoon. West hid in the shadows. “I don’t want the guys to think I’m trying to hog the spotlight,” he complained.

  In Morgantown where West, Hundley and other natural resources used to board with a lively, bouncy lady pharmacist, Mrs. Ann Dinardi, it was as if a small son had been found after all night in the swamp.

  Even the team instinctively protects its baby-faced assassin. “Zeke,” they call him, because the southern accent that comes out of his deviated septum and mouth from which teeth have been knocked in the backboard rumbles, sounds like something that would come from an Al Capp character with a pointed black hat and beard, squirrel rifle in hand and jug at his bare feet. “That ain’t Dixie, baby,” coos Hot Rod Hundley. “That’s hill-billy. Anybody in the league can understand old Zeke gets two free throws and the game ball.”

  In West Virginia, they understand Jerry West — and what he means to the game. They may not have seen many $20 bills, but they’ve seen basketball players. And Jerry West may be basketball’s basket-case in other parts of the country, but he’s basketball’s best down here. “Man and boy, I’ve seen ’em all,” boasted a state trooper as the crowd filed out still cheering the other night. “And l’il ole Jerry West’s the best there’s ever been. You watch what I say.”

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Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

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What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.  

Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole.  An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.

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