The Day I met Ray West
A great majority of the time, we remember significant conversations in our lives. Especially from important people we meet for the first time. I can tell you the conversation I had with my wife the first time I met her back in 1982. And the time I met the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. Back in 2008 I had a conversation that I will never forget.
If you ask any Oklahoma high school basketball fan their favorite time they have ever experienced, they will probably talk about the weekend at the Big House in March of 2008. Names like Rotnei Clarke, Keaton Page and Callie Slate. I had the incredible experience of attending that weekend, mainly because I was apart of the upstart OKRankings.com website, whose purpose was to gather rankings for coaches around the state to produce weekly rankings to be used for state playoff pairings. I was the programmer of the website and we had setup a booth at the Big House to talk to coaches and fans about what we were doing.
One of the days I was at the booth talking to a couple of coaches and saw a man, a little older that I was, standing about 10 feet away listening to our conversation. He did not look pleased. I shook the two coaches hands and looked over and the gentleman was still there, still not pleased. I didn’t know if I wanted to approach but I decided to take the few steps forward and I greeted him with my normal “My name’s Chris, how’s it going?”, I got a response I did not expect. Pointing to our booth he said, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!”. Not sure what exactly he was talking about, I asked “Stupid?”. He said, “OKRankings is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!” And being just the programmer, he could have been right because what did I know, I was the one who thought that Jordan kid from North Carolina would never make it in the NBA and in the early/mid 90’s that Internet thing will not happen.
I then used the next “tool” in my conversation toolbox and asked “So, where are you from?” I then learned that I was talking to not only a coach but a coach that was very passionate about this calling he was living called coaching. He told me where he was from and the places he had coached. He also proceeded to give me the history of how the rankings had been in the past and how great it was and how this coaches rankings was a bad idea. We talked for about 20 minutes and in that time, I asked a lot of questions and got a lot of answers. But along the path of that conversation, we both came to a good “agree to disagree” place in the coaches rankings debate.
We then talked about his players and his team and he talked about how much they meant to him and he didn’t want anything to adversely affect how they did. Once again, I sensed his passion for his players. I finally knew exactly where he was coming from and what his true concern was. What was best for his players.
He politely said he had to go and we shook hands. I walked back to the table, trying to process who I had just met. I picked up an OKRankings.com T-shirt (you remember those right?) and told my buddy, I’ve got to give him a shirt. I grabbed a couple, unsure of his size, and chased him down. I said “Coach West, I would like to give you this shirt.” He asked, “How much is it?”. I told him, “They are free for legendary coaches.” He accepted the shirt, gave me that sly smile and said “Thanks, I need another shirt to mow the lawn in.” After we both laughed I told him, “I do the same thing!”
Since that time, I’ve only talked with Ray a handful of times but I found myself every year, cheering for his team to win. Not only did I see him coach at the Big House but I also made a couple of trips to Okarche to watch his teams play. And in those trips I saw a man spend half time getting his little dribbling kids into their formations and perform their dribbling skills for the fans. Coach West not only spent time coaching his high school team but also invested in grade school kids teaching them the skill of basketball.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about Ray West from a distance. Being a high school sports history buff, I know he has 853 career wins, second most All-Time in Oklahoma High School Boys Basketball and the number of state tournaments he led his teams to. I’ve learned more of his great passion he had for coaching with the main purpose, helping his players get to their highest potential.
I have a feeling, now because of his passing, I will learn more about this great man and more specifically what he meant to his family, those he coached, those he taught and even those, like me, who only got to spend a few minutes of this life talking to him. The coaching community has lost a legendary coach but more importantly we have lost a great man.