How the late Lakers guard Jerry West’s silhouette inspired the NBA logo

You can’t tell the story of the modern NBA without legendary Los Angeles Lakers player and executive Jerry West, who has passed away at the age of 86.

If you’re unfamiliar with West’s influence on the NBA landscape, consider this – West’s most recognizable nickname is “The Logo” because his iconic silhouette was literally the inspiration for the league’s famous logo.

In an NBA career that spanned over 60 years, West had a hand in nine NBA championships, first as a player with the Lakers and then as an executive for the Purple and Gold and the Golden State Warriors.

West was key in boosting the profile of the Lakers franchise as it relocated from Minneapolis to Los Angeles where the team reached lofty new heights.

As a player, West won just one NBA title, but helped establish the Lakers as the Western Conference’s premiere franchise.

After his playing days ended, West was instrumental in constructing the “Showtime” Lakers – highlighted by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Michael Cooper – that won five NBA titles in the 1980s.

Humble beginnings

West was born May 28, 1938, in the small West Virginia town of Chelyan.

As a basketball player at East Bank High School in 1956, West was a high school All-American, West Virginia’s player of the year and led the team to a state championship.

After high school, West stayed in his home state to play basketball for West Virginia University.

He was named an All-American in 1959 and 1960 and took the Mountaineers to the 1959 Final Four, where he was named the Most Outstanding Player despite his team losing the championship game.

In April 1960, West was drafted by the Lakers, who were in the midst of relocating from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to be the NBA’s first team on the West Coast.

Before joining the Lakers, West was a member of the USA’s 1960 gold medal-winning team in the Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. 

In 2010, as that Olympic team was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, West said, “There’s never been a greater thrill in my life than to win a gold medal for our basketball team.”

West played 14 NBA seasons as a guard for the Lakers, where he was named an All-Star every season of his career.

West starred for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout his playing career in the NBA. - Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
West starred for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout his playing career in the NBA. - Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

The Lakers made nine trips to the NBA Finals during his career, but only won a single championship in 1972 against the New York Knicks.

West’s Lakers were haunted by the Boston Celtics, who defeated their Californian rivals six times in the Finals in the 1960s.

After yet another loss to Boston in 1969, West was named NBA Finals MVP, the only time a player from the losing team has ever won that award.

In 2017, West said in an interview that he hadn’t returned to the city of Boston since his playing career ended and that he was still “tormented” by those losses.

How West became “The Logo”

In 1969, the NBA commissioned a new logo for the league from designer Alan Siegel, who had famously overseen the design of Major League Baseball’s logo.

Siegel, a fan of West, found his inspiration in a photograph of the NBA star’s perfect dribbling form. “It’s the easiest job I ever had,” Siegel told CNN Sport.

Siegel has no problem admitting that the NBA logo is based on West, but it’s a different story when it comes to the NBA itself. The league has never formally acknowledged that the logo depicts West.

In the NBA’s defense, Siegel says that he never told anyone at the league that the logo was modeled after West and never intended for it to be recognizable as the Lakers star.

West retired from the NBA in 1974 and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1980.

Trophy-laden executive career

After West stepped off the court, he transitioned into the Lakers’ front office, where his eye for basketball talent proved as prodigious as his own on-court skill.

He assembled the “Showtime” Lakers team that dominated the 1980s led by point guard Magic Johnson.

The Lakers made eight Finals appearances and won five championships in that decade, including two against West’s longtime nemesis, the Celtics.

In the 1996 NBA offseason, West traded for the rights to rookie Kobe Bryant and acquired free agent Shaquille O’Neal in the span of a single month.

This laid the foundation for another dominant Lakers dynasty that won three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 through 2002. After seeing the culmination of his efforts, West retired as executive vice president of the Lakers after the 2000 championship.

But West was unable to remain away from the game that had been the focal point of his life for nearly 50 years.

West will forever be remembered as a basketball great for his work both on and off the court. - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
West will forever be remembered as a basketball great for his work both on and off the court. - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

In 2002, he joined the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to win the NBA’s executive of the year award in 2004.

Following another brief retirement after leaving the Grizzlies in 2007, West joined the Golden State Warriors in 2011 as an executive and oversaw the team’s NBA titles in 2015 and 2017.

He then joined the Los Angeles Clippers as an executive in 2017. It was the Clippers that announced West had passed away on Wednesday morning with his wife Karen by his side.

In 2019, West was honored for his life’s achievements when he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Donald Trump. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States.

West was married twice and has 5 children, all sons.

One of his sons, Ryan, worked in the Lakers’ front office for 10 years before leaving to join his father with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Another of his children, Jonnie, is director of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors and is married to former professional golfer Michelle Wie West.

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