West's driving force in new job? Charity

May, 28, 2009

When the phone rings Thursday and NBA legend Jerry West is on the other end of the line, the first order of business is an offer of congratulations.

Not for his new position of executive director for the Northern Trust Open -- that will come later -- but because today is his 71st birthday.

("Unfortunately," he says with laugh.)

As part of his birthday celebration, the guy known as "Mr. Clutch" was announced in his new role at the Los Angeles-based PGA Tour event. He sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss how and why this happened.

Sobel: West's role the real deal

What should be item No. 1 on Jerry West's to-do list in his new role as executive director of the Northern Trust Open? Convincing Tiger Woods to start playing his hometown event again. Jason Sobel

• West to lead Northern Trust Open

Q: Congratulations. It's not easy finding a job in today's market.
A: [Laughs] Well, this is really not a job; it's going to be kind of a labor of love, I hope, because it's my opportunity to give back to the city, be involved with the Northern Trust people and the PGA Tour. It's really about me trying to help this tournament raise money for charity. You give a lot of yourself and … I think some of the happiest moments of my life have come at West Virginia University, the charity of my choice, and to get letters from kids thanking you for helping them go to school and receive an education is probably one of the best things about giving. Los Angeles has embraced me for so many years, and I want to try to help make a difference here in terms of giving to this city and move this tournament to the stature that it should be.

Q: Can you break down what the role of executive director entails, exactly?
A: Well, it's going to be pretty encompassing, to be honest with you. We're going to try to get some different things done here. We're going to try to get a club going called the Legends Club, which will be part of the fabric of this tournament, to help promote it not for one year, but for a longer period. We'd like it to be reflective of the community of Los Angeles, obviously one of the most ethnically diverse cities we have in this country. And more importantly, for me to go out and meet with people, attend events, try to get people involved again. If we are successful in doing that, certainly it's going to help these charity benefits. Los Angeles is not where it should be in terms of giving and, obviously, this is a rich city. We want people to get involved and I want to do my best to help in that area.

Q: This may sound like a job interview type of question, but what makes you qualified for this position?
A: They chose me; I didn't choose them [laughs]. They asked me to do it. They wanted me to be the head of it, I think, because of my being here in the city so much. And also, I love golf. Of all the games I've watched people play and tried to participate in, I'm fascinated by how good these guys are. But more importantly, they're not guaranteed a paycheck.

It's more about me getting involved in this stuff. And I think if you're willing to make a commitment, if you have a work ethic -- which I do have -- I think we can get this done and I'm happy that the PGA and Northern Trust felt that I was the person to do this.

They asked me to do it, and we had a couple of great meetings, and I've been very impressed with the PGA Tour. If you listen to commissioner Tim Finchem, what does he talk about on almost every broadcast? The enormous amount of money that the PGA Tour contributes to charity. That's my sole purpose here -- to try to raise more money for the local charities that are supported through the Chamber of Commerce.

Q: What part of your background will be most beneficial: Hall of Fame player, former general manager, longtime Los Angeles resident or avid golfer?
A: Well, I think probably all of them. You know, when I first started playing in Los Angeles, we were the third team on the totem pole here; we were on the back pages of the newspaper. And I worked for the Lakers basically all my adult life, starting as a player, then as a coach and a consultant and an executive, and to watch the sport grow here, I think people have an appreciation for the Lakers, maybe second to none.

Now the sports team in town that draws the most attention is the Lakers, and I'm just hopeful that my association with the Lakers and the work that you have to do to have an effective team and a team that can win, I think it would be very, very similar to being involved with a professional golf tour.

Q: Last year, the title sponsor came under fire for hosting a tournament after being encouraged by the U.S. government to participate in the TARP Capital Purchase Program, which was part of the federal bailout of the banking industry. What was your take on that?
A: Well, I'm not working for Northern Trust. And I think Northern Trust is the one who should answer those questions, but this company has been in business forever and they're a global brand and they've very philanthropic. That, to me, is what it feels like. There's a very philanthropic feel about it. They're going to have to answer that question, though.

Q: Tiger Woods missed only one edition of his hometown event from 1997 to 2006 but hasn't competed the last three years. How vital is it for the tournament to coerce him into playing again?
A: Well, I don't ever think you coerce people into doing things. I think you have to appeal to them. I've known him since he was a young kid -- we used to host him at Laker games; he's obviously an avid basketball fan, has a tremendous relationship with Michael Jordan, as everyone knows -- and obviously, it would be great if Mr. Woods would decide to play here. It would give us kind of a launching point.

I'm hopeful that he would consider doing that because I think everyone knows what he brings to the table in terms of his appeal to the fans and, more importantly, his skill and contribution to the game. His charity is also based here in Los Angeles; he grew up in the Southern California area; and I'm very, very hopeful that we can interact and talk to his people. He has so many demands made on his time.

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I understand the dynamics of him trying to schedule his year, but it would be nice if he came here and gave us a jump start. I think that would be an enormous accomplishment, if we could get him. But this event always has a great field out here.

Q: Considering your past relationship with Tiger, would it fall upon your shoulders to try to appeal to him to compete in the event next year?
A: All you can do is ask; that's all you can do. Again, he has a lot on his table -- everyone wants him to play in their event. But I think it would be nice if he could come here and play and certainly we'll try to do everything in our power.

If I can do anything, you know, I would love to see him play here, because he's such an important part of the tour. But more importantly, he brings something different to the table, just as some of the great golfers of the past have done. When they participate in a field, you do see a greater interest and obviously more people will come. And if more people come, if we can get people to contribute money that will be designed only for charity, then I'm going to be a happy camper, and I'm sure that all of the local charities will be more than happy to get a substantially larger sum of money contributed to their cause.

Q: One last question: You're already the silhouetted logo for the NBA. Any chance you'll be posing for the PGA Tour logo, too?
A: [Laughs] Well, I don't think so. I wouldn't put myself in that category. But as I said, this is going to be fun for me, because if I'm committed to doing something, I will work at it.

This city has been so great to me. I have to try to do something to give back to this city. And this would be my way of doing it. I don't look at this as a job at all. Not at all. I look at this as something that should be fun for me. I have great admiration for the skill of the golfers and how tough this game is. I also have great admiration for the people of this city.

To know that we can make a difference at the Northern Trust Open, for the PGA Tour and for charities, I will go to bed at night thanking my goodness I'm glad I did this.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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