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Jerry West, Inspiration for NBA Logo, Dies at 86

Jerry West, Inspiration for NBA Logo, Dies at 86illustration

Jerry West, the iconic figure often believed to be the basis for the NBA logo, passed away on Wednesday morning at the age of 86, as announced by the Los Angeles Clippers.

West, known as "Mr. Clutch" for his late-game heroics, had a distinguished career as both a player and an executive, earning enshrinement in the Basketball three times. He was first inducted as a player in 1980 and again as a member of the gold medal-winning 1960 U.S. Olympic Team in 2010. Later this year, he will be honored for a third time as a contributor. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised West, calling him “one of the greatest executives in sports history.”

“He helped build eight championship teams during his tenure in the NBA — a legacy of achievement that mirrors his on-court excellence,” Silver said. “And he will be enshrined this October into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, becoming the first person ever inducted as both a player and a contributor. I valued my friendship with Jerry and the knowledge he shared with me over many years about basketball and life.”

The Clippers, where West worked as a consultant for the past seven years, described him as “the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him.” His wife, Karen, was by his side when he passed away.

West's playing career was marked by numerous accolades: he was an All-Star in all 14 of his NBA seasons, a 12-time All-NBA selection, part of the 1972 Lakers championship team, and the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 despite the Lakers losing to the Boston Celtics — the only time the award has gone to a player on the losing team. He was also named to the NBA's 75th anniversary team.

As an executive, West was instrumental in building championship teams, particularly with the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" era. He drafted Magic Johnson and James Worthy and later brought Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to the team. He also held executive roles with the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, and the Clippers. His influence spanned decades, working with stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, O'Neal, Bryant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, , Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George.

“I marvel at them, at the joy they brought basketball fans all over the world,” West said in 2019.

Even in his later years, West remained a prominent figure in the basketball community, frequently attending Summer League games in Las Vegas and engaging with players like LeBron James, who paid tribute to West on social media: “Will truly miss our convos my dear friend! My thoughts and prayers goes out to your wonderful family! Forever love Jerry! Rest in Paradise my guy!”

West is 25th on the NBA's all-time scoring list. While the NBA has never officially confirmed West as the model for its logo, it is widely believed to be based on his silhouette. “While it's never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West,” Silver said in 2021, “it sure looks a lot like him.”

West remains the NBA Finals' all-time leader in total points, field goals made and attempted, and free throws made and attempted. He appeared in nine NBA Finals, winning once against the and losing six times to the Celtics.

West hit one of the most famous shots in NBA Finals history, a 60-footer at the buzzer in Game 3 of the 1970 series against the Knicks to force overtime.

Tributes poured in from across the sports world following his death. The Los Angeles Dodgers called West “an indelible figure on the Los Angeles sports landscape for more than 60 years,” and the NBA planned a tribute before Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Dallas Mavericks.

“Jerry West is one of my favorite people that I had the honor to get to know in the NBA,” said Miami Heat managing general partner Micky Arison. “He welcomed me to the league, offered advice from the first day, and asked nothing in return. He will be missed.”

Born in Chelyan, West Virginia, West was a dedicated and relentless player from a young age. He became the first high school player in state history to score more than 900 points in a season, leading East Bank High to a state title with an average of 32.2 points per game.

Basketball was West's refuge, a theme he explored in his memoir, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life.” He chronicled his struggles with depression and an abusive father, channeling his energies into the game.

West led West Virginia University to the NCAA final in 1959, where they lost by one point to California. He then joined the Lakers, where he spent his entire professional playing career. He was honored as one of the NBA's 50 greatest players in 1996 and was selected again when the league expanded the list to 75 players in 2021.

In 2019, West received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, reflecting on his journey from Chelyan, West Virginia: “My chase began in Chelyan, West Virginia, where I strung awire basket with no net to the side of a bridge. If your shot didn't go in, the ball rolled down a long bank and you would be chasing it forever. So, you better make it."

“I was a dreamer. My family didn't have much, but we had a clear view of the Appalachian Mountains, and I'd sit alone on our front porch and wonder, ‘If I ever make it to the top of that mountain, what will I see on the other side?' Well, I did make it to the other side, and my dreams have come true. I've been able to see the sides, thanks to that bouncing ball.”

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