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Who Is Martha Jane Kane? Into the Life of NBA Icon Jerry West’s First Wife

Martha Jane Kane is best known as the ex-wife of famous basketball player Jerry West. She played an important role as the first bride of an NBA icon. Her relationship with Jerry made her a part of basketball history.

This article will explore Martha’s life and marriage, including what little information is available about this elusive figure.

Martha Jane Kane Was Jerry West’s Young Love

Before his professional career began, the 1938-born Jerry was a young college student at West Virginia UniversityIt was there that he met his first love, Martha. The college sweethearts got married on April 10, 1960, when he was just 22 years old. They exchanged vows in Morgantown, home to WVU.

According to his former roommate, West was known to be very shy and reserved, not even dating during his first year. But one day, he sat next to the girl he would later build a family with in class. 

As Martha recalls, it was weeks of passing notes back and forth before her husband asked her out. He would still be very shy, but did think enough to kiss her good night after date.

Jerry West with Yvonne DeCarlo
Martha’s then-husband Jerry West with actress Yvonne DeCarlo on the set of ‘Adventure in Paradise.’

Gradually, he seems to have come out of his shell with Martha. Their love led them to begin a life together through marriage when most 22-year-olds today would consider themselves far too young.

Martha And Jerry Divorced After More Than A Decade Of Togetherness

As stated above, the college sweethearts tied the knot in 1960 when West started his iconic NBA career. The young couple seemed happily married for many years. However, after over a decade together, cracks began to show in their relationship. 

The basketball icon was known to be very reserved and struggled to open up emotionally, even to his wife. Sadly, this drove Martha further away over time. She used to say that togetherness in the traditional sense had not worked for them but she somehow got used to it over time.

This estranged behavior probably built up frustration and hurt between the pair. Though they had been wedded for over 16 years, the relationship deteriorated. The emotional divide proved too wide to reconcile. 

Eventually, the lovebirds decided to end their bond after so many years. And in April 1977, the ex-pair finalized their divorce.

Martha Jane Kane Went Through Tough Times With West

Jerry was one of his era’s most talented and successful basketball players. On the court, he seemed to have it all – fame, fortune, and exceptional skill. However, off the court, he struggled deeply with mental health issues. 

His first spouse bore firsthand witness to his inner torment. Though their relationship started happily, she came to see her partner as the “saddest man she had ever met.” His moods were dark, and he was extremely withdrawn emotionally. 

Young Jerry West
Jerry West played for Los Angeles Lakers in his NBA career

Kane felt Jerry was almost on the brink of self-destruction from his constant inner anguish. She worried for his well-being and stability. Even after their union ended, she was so concerned she wrote to the Lakers’ owner warning of Jerry’s fragile mental state.

Despite all his professional success, West shunned the spotlight and publicity. He seemed unable to be happy or find fulfillment. Kane experienced these difficulties up close during her marriage. 

Martha Kane Is The Mother Of Three Children

During her relationship with Jerry, she gave birth to three sons – David, Mark, and Michael. Not much is known about the three boys who have stayed out of the spotlight except that each of them were born a year apart. 

Unlike Jerry’s two sons from his second marriage, Ryan and Jonnie, the three Kane brothers seem to have yet to follow in their father’s footsteps in basketball. If they had pursued careers in the sport, more information would likely be available about the first three kids.

Jerry West, Karen West, Jnnie West, Michelle Wie West and her parents
Jerry West, Karen West, Jonnie West, Michelle Wie West with Michelle’s parents from right to left

While Ryan worked as a scout and Jonnie is an executive who married golfer Michelle Wie West, Kane’s children have laid low. 

West Remarried Two Years After His First Divorce 

Only after one year of West’s divorce from Kane in 1977, he was ready to give marriage another try. He tied the knot with Karen Bua, a cheerleader at Pepperdine University, on May 28, 1978.

Meanwhile, his first wife receded from the public eye after their divorce. Karen seemed to connect with West in a way that brought him happiness. 

Jerry West and Karen West
Jerry in Los Angeles, California with Karen West

Though his first marriage crumbled, Jerry wanted a second chance at love. The gamble paid off, as the duo married over 40 years later. 

Martha Jane Kane’s Career

Unlike her famous ex-husband, very little is publicly known about Kane’s career and professional life. West became an NBA superstar and icon, constantly in the spotlight. Meanwhile, she has remained an extremely private person who shunned publicity.

While West’s illustrious basketball career has been well documented, Martha’s occupations and jobs could be clearer. It appears she focused on raising her three sons as normally as possible, avoiding the hubbub surrounding an NBA legend’s family. 

Martha Is Not The Only Child Of The Kane Family

Martha Jane was born around 1939 but was not a single child. Her father, Harold Hastings Kane, and mother, Eleanor Virginia (Smith) Kane, had given birth to their son, Edward Kane, about a year before.

Edward’s age was listed as 1 year in the 1940 census; hence, he was likely born around 1938-1939, making him the older sibling. He was born a year after his parents got married in 1937.

Following that trail, Martha will be around 85 in 2024, and her brother will be 86. The whereabouts or the status of her family are not known currently.

Similarly, the sibling’s parents are already deceased, although the exact dates are not known. But it can be taken as a reasonable assumption as her father Harold was born in 1898, and her mother Eleanor was born in 1908.

Kane Had A Fulfilling Early Life

Martha grew up with the comfort and stability provided by a family-run hardware store business. Her father owned and operated the store in Weston, West Virginia. 

She also described having “a big happy family” which implies her emotional and relational needs were met with love and care. Additionally, she seemed to possess an inherently optimistic spirit and skill set that allowed her to truly thrive. 

She excelled academically as shown through earning good grades. Her impressive interpersonal abilities earned her admiration and popularity among classmates – leading to cheerleader and May Queen roles.

By her own account, Jane achieved everything she had envisioned for herself by following her dreams proactively. “Everything had always come true, just the way I wanted it to be,” she has remarked.