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Golden State Warriors executive board member Jerry West sits on the bench by NBA logos before the game the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, California© Getty

Jerry West, basketball legend on NBA logo, dead at 86

The former Lakers player is immortalized as a literal icon of the NBA

Beatriz Colon
Beatriz Colon - New York
New York WriterNew York
June 12, 2024
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Jerry West, a three-time NBA Hall of Famer, an All-Star every year of his career, and whose silhouette serves as the iconic logo for the NBA, had died. He was 86.

The LA Clippers announced in a statement June 12 that the legendary athlete passed away on Wednesday morning, reportedly of natural causes, with his wife Karen West by his side.

He is survived by his wife, who he married in 1978, and five children.

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The LA Clippers, for whom Mr. West became an advisor in 2017 and who they relied on to lead them to their first ever Western Conference finals in 2021, described him in their statement as "the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him."

Born Jerome Alan West on May 28, 1938 in Chelyan, West Virginia, the fifth of six children, West began playing basketball in high school in the early 1950s, and continued to develop his basketball career while attending West Virginia University.

Upon his graduation in 1960, he was drafted as the second overall pick by the Minneapolis Lakers, who shortly after relocated to Los Angeles, making West the first draft pick of the then newly-coined Los Angeles Lakers.

Jerry West #44 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball up court against the Baltimore Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1972 at the Baltimore Civic Center in Baltimore, Maryland© Getty
The Lakers star in 1972

In his 14 seasons with the Lakers, he accrued several nicknames in testament to his prowess and country roots; they included Mr. Clutch, for his penchant for last-minute, often game-saving moves, Mr. Outside for his perimeter play, Tweety Bird, for his high-pitched Appalachian accent, Zeke from Cabin Creek, for his Chelyan roots, and of course, "the logo."

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West was immortalized as the icon of the NBA nine years into his career, in 1969. It was a design Alan Siegel modeled after a Wen Roberts photograph, though for years both West and the NBA played coy about confirming it was in fact him.

Jerry West, GM, Kobe Bryant and Head Coach Del Harris in 1996© Getty
With the late Kobe Bryant in 1996, when he joined the Lakers

In 2010, Siegel declared to the Los Angeles Times: "It's Jerry West." The choosing of the photo was largely serendipitous, and he said it simply "had a nice flavor to it." Still, he added: "It was perfect. It was vertical and it had a sense of movement. It was just one of those things that clicked."

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NBA Logo, modeled after Jerry West© Getty
A literal basketball icon

Nonetheless, he understood the NBA's hesitation to identify West as "the logo." "They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it," he noted. "It's become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player."

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Jerry West and Karen West attend the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia on TNT at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019 in Santa Monica, California© Getty
West and his wife in 2019

West retired from basketball in 1974; he was the Lakers' coach from 1976 until 1979, and in 1982, he became the team's general manager — or more commonly referred to as super-general manager for his executive authority — a role he held until 2002. During that time, he led them to several championships, and saw fellow greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal advance his Showtime dynasty.

He had five sons; he shared David, Michael, and Mark with his first wife, Martha Kane Jane, to whom he was married from 1960 until 1976, and Jonnie and Ryan with Karen.

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