One Elevator Ride with Jerry West Forever Changed My View of Authentic Connection

Jake Kelfer · June 18, 2019

It was the 2015-2016 NBA Season and here I was in what I thought was a dream job. I was working in my very first job out of college as a Corporate Partnerships Assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA season. For a kid that grew up loving the Lakers and having a room in the house called the Lakers Room, this was an opportunity too good to pass up.

So here I was in the middle of the season heading down to the tunnel where the players enter to get ready for the half court shot or some other contest we used to do. Every game, the assistants and I would select several lucky fans to participate in contests to win thousands of dollars, cars, or even money for charity.

hello-i-m-nik-743251-unsplash.jpgOnly this time, my elevator ride forever changed the way I view people and connection…

I was in the elevator and right as the elevator was about to close, a hand snuck in and stopped it from closing. I looked up and the person was none other than Hall of Famer Jerry West. If you don’t know who Jerry West is, he’s the NBA logo, a Lakers legend, and a basketball hero. I immediately got excited and my heart started to pound.

As the door closed again, the person working the elevator paused and asked Jerry, “Excuse me sir, but do you have a badge?”

Jerry looked at him slightly confused and very politely, I might add, responded, “No I don’t, but do you know who I am?”

The person looked at him. Then he looked at me before responding, “No, I don’t, sir, but I can’t let you down without a badge. I’m sorry.”

I want to make it very clear that Jerry handled this incredibly politely when he could’ve gotten upset for the person not knowing who he was. I mean, come on, he’s Jerry West!!! If you work at Staples Center (where the Lakers play), it should be a requirement to know who Jerry West is along with the other Lakers legends. At the same time, I respected the person working the elevator for taking his job seriously and not allowing just anyone down to the tunnel.

20 seconds later, the elevator comes to a stop and we get off. We take a few steps and Jerry turns to me and says, “Thank you for doing that. I really appreciate what you just did for me.”

My whole body shivered and chills went through my body. Here I was, a first-year assistant taking a gamble unsure of how it would play out only to have Jerry share his gratitude.

cs descriptionNow, if you’re thinking that bringing someone down an elevator isn’t that big of a deal, you’re right. It had nothing to do with the elevator.

As Jerry walked away, and as I reflect on that moment now, I realize something changed. I realized one of the most fundamental truths in our lives…


It doesn’t matter what someone’s job title is, how much money they have, how old they are, how smart they are, how rich they are, what background they come from, or anything at all for that matter. What matters is that we understand people are people, and we all have the same basic desires to be loved, be heard, be complimented, and to feel valued. We all search for appreciation, recognition and love.

Jerry could’ve walked off the elevator angry and upset, but instead, he chose to thank me which meant the world to me. To him, he just said thank you, but to me, it was a moment I’ll remember forever

I could’ve stayed quiet and let Jerry figure out the situation with the person working the elevator, but because I could help, I did.  That small decision to act with intentionality in order to provide value has impacted how I act towards others ever since.

Think about all the people you’ve ever come across. It’s probably a lot of people. Think about how many we ignore when we are walking down the street or when we see someone on campus but don’t know how to respond. Think about when we see someone we know but don’t really want to talk to for whatever reason so we go with the classic fake text message to avoid eye contact or we turn our head at the last second.   

hello-i-m-nik-743251-unsplash.jpgWhat if we made it a goal, knowing people want to be loved, valued, and heard, to choose our actions based on intentionality and authenticity? What if we made it a challenge to put a smile on everyone’s face we interacted with? What if we gave one person a compliment per day? What if we choose to act with the goal of helping others before ourselves?

What if we told our friends we appreciate them more often? Our families that we love them? Our teachers that we respect them? What if we choose to only have positive self talk with the voice inside our heads to build our confidence?

When we change the narrative from judging people and expecting people to be a certain way to being intentional with our actions and being authentic, we can live a happier lifestyle with more love, kindness, and connection.

Character Dares:

  1. Greet everyone you see with a smile and some form of positive interaction – high five, hug, handshake, compliment, etc.

  2. Create a poster for your classroom or a print out for your desk that says – Am I doing everything I can to elevate others through intentional actions and authentic connections?

  3. Tell a family member, colleague, student, teacher, friend, spouse, that you appreciate them, love them, respect them, and/or value them.


Jake Kelfer

Jake Kelfer is a lifestyle entrepreneur and life elevator. He is the bestselling author of Elevate Beyond and Elevate Your Network and a high energy inspirational speaker on a mission to elevate and motivate millions of people to achieve their definition of success. He is the founder of the Professional Basketball Combine which helps NBA draft prospects turn their dreams of playing pro basketball into their reality. He and his work have been featured on Forbes, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NBC Sports, USA Today, Bleacher Report, and many other major media outlets. Connect with Jake at or on social @jakekelfer!