Obituary: Jim West the father of basketball in Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth Basketball legend Jim West has died

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West pictured aged 17 in his US Air Force recruitment photo, and as Great Yarmouth's sports development officer in the 1980s. - Credit: supplied by James Long

Meeting Jim West was a game-changer for hundreds of people, young and old, who turned to him for sport and guidance.

Dubbed the 'Father of Basketball' in Great Yarmouth he championed the sport to countless players through his community sessions at the Drill Hall on York Road.

Great Yarmouth sports and basketball legend Jim West has died

Jim West, third from left, at the Drill Hall with some of the young athletes he encouraged into the sport in around 2010. - Credit: supplied by James Long

But his influence spanned many other sporting spheres, and stemmed from a place that believed everyone deserved a second chance.

Described as strict but unwaveringly fair, he was an inspiration to everyone he came into contact with.

Following  his death, at the age of 83, he has been variously described as "a legend", "a true gentleman" and a "true ambassador" for community sport.

Mr West was born in Arkansas, the middle child in a military family which travelled the globe.

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West who has died aged 83.

Jim West in his enlistment photo to the United States Air Force. He enlisted at aged 17 and served until he was 37 retiring from Mildenhall. - Credit: supplied by James Long

At 17 he enlisted in the US Air Force and trained as a meteorologist.

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He served at numerous bases including a year's service at Tan Sen Nhut in Vietnam from June 1970.

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West who has died aged 83

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West during a tour of duty with the USAF in Saigon in around 1970. - Credit: supplied by James Long

He retired from Mildenhall, in Suffolk, in 1976 and settled in Norwich with his first wife Ann, who died in 1988.

Mr West studied philosophy at the UEA in the late 70s to early 80s and was awarded a BA Hons and an M Phil.

He met his second wife Cathy when he moved to Great Yarmouth to take up a role as sports development officer for the borough council. They married in 1990 and he retired again in 1994.

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West who has died aged 83

Jim West can be seen standing on the right behind his coach. Jim’s older brother Bob is second from the left on the bottom row. - Credit: supplied by James Long

While in post he started the long-running Club 88 for the over 50s, who met in the Drill Hall for short tennis, archery, and short mat bowls for over 20 years before relocating to the Marina Centre in 2012.

He was also a long-serving committee member of Disability Sport Norfolk and an active participant in wheelchair basketball, and often got dumped out of his chair and run over. 

Great Yarmouth sports and basketball legend Jim West has died

Great Yarmouth sports development officer Jim West who has died aged 83 outside the town hall in around 1984. - Credit: supplied by James Long

Closer to home he was involved in running the Lichfield and Southtown Community Centre, near where he lived, and started a credit union there.

His wife Cathy recalled how in the early days of the Kosovan war, a group of refugees was housed close to the centre and Jim took them there to help them exercise to recover from the injuries they had received when captured and tortured during their military service.

Another story told how he supported a boy he knew had damaged his car, believing the carrot was better than the stick, and organising paintballing and laser shooting for troubled teens.

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West who has died aged 83

Jim West can be found next to the coach on the bottom row, and next to his brother Bob. - Credit: supplied by James Long

She said: "There is a danger we are making Jim into a saint.

"He was a human being like us all and had bad points, but they were far outweighed by his good ones.

"This meant he was tolerant of the faults in other people and believed everyone deserved a second chance."

Marie Hartley who worked closely with Mr West at the borough council said he was "truly a wonderful man".

Basketball legend Jim West from Great Yarmouth has died aged 83

Jim West in action possibly taken at the UEA, where Jim coached the basketball team in the early 1980s. - Credit: supplied by James Long

She said: "Always giving his time, knowledge and wisdom, Jim was a committed community stalwart.

"His dedication and positive influence to enable opportunities for everyone made Jim a true ambassador for community sport."

Great Yarmouth basketball legend Jim West has died

Jim West playing baseball probably during a visit home to North Carolina to see his family whilst serving in the United States Air Force. - Credit: supplied by James Long

James Long, of Basketball England, said: "Jim's passing is terribly sad for the entire basketball family within Norfolk.

"Jim was a significant and much-loved figure, whose passion for the sport was matched only by his joy for helping others and the generosity with which he gave his time.

"The outpouring of love and heart-warming stories from those who knew him is a measure of the affection and high regard in which he was held."

In 2017 Mr West was named an honorary life member of the Great Yarmouth Basketball Club and inducted into its hall of fame.

The club’s most prestigious award - the Jim West Trophy - is given out to the club member of the year.

Mr West's funeral is at 1.45pm on Tuesday June 21 at Gorleston crematorium, with a reception straight after at The Burlington Hotel on Marine Parade, opposite the basketball courts where a match will be played in his honour.