A vast number of athletes have made their mark in the history of the NBA.
Some are known for their stellar play and championships and others are known for their consistency and leadership.
One former player that exemplified all these intangibles (and more) was Jerry West.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) May 28, 2021
West is a former player, coach, executive, and de facto face of the league who still lends his knowledge of the game to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Without West, it’s likely a number of championship teams and memorable moments in league history never happen.
This is the story of Jerry West.
Jerome Alan West was born on May 29, 1938, in Chelyan, West Virginia.
He was one of six children who grew up poor in coal country.
West’s father was a coal mine electrician who would frequently take out his anger on his children.
As he got older, his father’s abuse got so bad that West slept with a loaded shotgun in case he was attacked at night.
When he was 12, West’s brother, David, was killed in action during the Korean War.
The loss made West introverted and he found his own way of coping with his emotions.
One of his coping mechanisms was to shoot baskets at a hoop that a neighbor had nailed to a shed.
The dirt patch that surrounded the hoop became his escape and West would play in all types of weather.
Jerry West (42) scores a bucket for East Bank high school in West Virginia. West would go on to have quite a basketball career to put it mildly pic.twitter.com/EIcdFTgZXg
— Sports Days Past (@SportsDaysPast) June 12, 2019
West also practiced shooting the ball from various angles, the more to challenge himself.
He would later develop a quick release that he honed after several failed attempts.
West’s devotion to hoops was so intense that he would often forget to eat. His mother would scold him when he returned hours after dinner.
At various times in his youth, West was so thin that he was forced to receive vitamin injections.
Ever the hoop junkie, whenever he wasn’t outside shooting baskets, West would listen to West Virginia basketball games on the radio.
As a student at East Bank High School in East Bank, West Virginia, West failed to make the football, baseball, and track teams.
However, all of his obsessive home basketball practices finally paid off when he made the school’s varsity basketball team.
After a junior year that saw him mostly come off the bench, West had a growth spurt in the summer before his senior year.
East Bank High School Basketball Team, 1956
— WV Prep Basketball 🏀 (@wvprepbb) January 15, 2022
During his final high school basketball season, West became the first player in state history to score 900 points in a single season with a 32.2 points-per-game average.
Due to West’s play, East Bank made the postseason and won the state title in 1956.
That year West was named a High School All-American as well as West Virginia Player of the Year.
By the time he graduated in the spring of 1956, more than 60 colleges were clamoring for his services.
However, there was really only one place West wanted to play college hoops.
West Virginia Mountaineers
One of the many college teams offering West a scholarship was West Virginia. It was a no-brainer for him as he grew up worshipping the team.
During his first year in Morgantown, West and his fellow freshman teammates went a perfect 17-0.
He became part of the varsity squad as a sophomore and continued to excel. That season, West Virginia cruised through the regular season with a 26-1 record.
West started every game and averaged 17.8 points per game with 11.1 rebounds and received a slew of postseason honors.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden, the Mountaineers faced Manhattan College.
In what became one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, the Jaspers upset West Virginia.
West’s junior year in 1959 was even more dominating.
That team returned to the NCAA tournament and marched all the way to the national title game.
— John Antonik (@JohnAntonik) March 19, 2015
One of the most thrilling finals in modern history came down to the wire as Cal defeated the Mountaineers 71-70.
Through five rounds of the tournament, West tied the NCAA tourney record of 160 total points, with an average of 32 points per game.
Furthermore, he led all West Virginia players in scoring and rebounding during each game of the tournament.
Despite the loss, West was named the tourney’s Most Oustanding Player of the Final Four.
He would also be named a consensus All-American and was invited to play for the U.S. in the Pan American Games that summer.
The team would win a gold medal with West leading the way.
West’s senior season would be remembered for a vast number of highlights.
Jerry West played for West Virginia from 1957-1960. (AP) pic.twitter.com/itcuDHIB4f
— Hoops History Pics (@HoopHistoryPics) March 20, 2014
That year, he averaged 29.3 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. The Mountaineers would make it to the NCAA tourney’s Sweet 16 before losing.
Then, after being selected again as a consensus All-American, West was chosen for the U.S. Olympic team.
Remarkably, he was selected as a Team USA co-captain along with Oscar Robinson.
The duo helped lead the U.S. to a perfect 5-0 record during the Games including a defeat of Russia during the gold medal game.
Once the Olympic Games concluded, West turned his attention to the next phase of his career, the NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers
Before the 1960-61 NBA season, the Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles. The Lakers were already a strong team, having won the NBA title in 1950 and 1952-1954.
After the 1959-60 season, Minneapolis lost in the Division Finals to the St. Louis Hawks 4-3.
With the second pick of the 1960 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected West. Then, the team uprooted and headed for Southern California.
Initially, West seemed out of place, especially in a city like Los Angeles.
His high-pitched voice and thick, Appalachian accent earned him the nicknames “Tweety Bird” and “Zeke from Cabin Creek.”
However, there was no denying West’s hustle and heady play.
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 28, 2020
His work ethic and shooting ability soon earned him a new nickname, “Mr. Outside,” for his ability to hit long-range shots. That season, West averaged 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
West was complemented by forward Elgin Baylor who was “Mr. Inside.”
In his rookie season, the Lakers improved from 25 wins the year before to 35 in 1960-61.
LA then defeated the Detroit Pistons in five games in the Division Semifinals before losing to the Hawks again in seven games in the Division Finals.
During the 1961-62 and 1962-63 seasons, the Lakers won more than 50 games and made it to the NBA Finals where they faced Boston.
Los Angeles would lose both finals in seven and six games, respectively.
Meanwhile, West became a leader of the team and averaged close to 30 points per game both years, leading to yet another moniker, “Mr. Clutch.”
After a 1963-64 season that ended in the Division Semifinals to the Hawks, the Lakers returned to the Finals in 1967.
In a pattern that would repeat itself many more times, LA would lose twice in the Finals after the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons to the Celtics.
After losing to Boston four games to three in the 1969 Finals, West was recognized as the MVP, becoming the only member of a losing team to be named Finals MVP.
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 5, 2019
LA then lost in the 1969-1970 Finals to the New York Knicks.
Understandably, the championship losses ate away at the core of West.
“He (West) took a loss harder than any player I’ve ever known,” said longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. “He would sit by himself and stare into space. A loss just ripped his guts out.”
Even opponents felt for West, as was evident after the Finals loss to the Celtics in 1969.
Spying a grieving West after the clinching series victory, Boston great John Havlicek approached his opponent.
“Jerry, I love you,” Havlicek said.
At Long Last
West and the Lakers’ playoff woes continued in 1970-71 when they defeated the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Semis’ then lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals.
However, everything finally clicked for the franchise in 1971-1972.
That season, the Lakers went 69-13 with West and center Wilt Chamberlin leading the way.
In the Conference Semifinals, LA beat Chicago in four games, then took down the Bucks in six.
During the Finals against the Knicks, West didn’t play well in the first two games but scored 21 points in Game 3.
That gave him 4,002 playoff points, setting an NBA playoff record.
LA would eventually wear down New York and win the series four games to one.
Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of win #33 of the 1971-72 @Lakers NBA-record 33-game win-streak!
This legendary team, led by Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and coach Bill Sharman, would also go on to win the NBA title later that season. #NBA75 pic.twitter.com/IWVkaqVci4
— NBA (@NBA) January 7, 2022
West finally had his first title, though he believed his shooting performance during the Finals was awful.
“I played terrible basketball in the Finals, and we won… It was particularly frustrating because I was playing so poorly that the team overcame me. Maybe that’s what a team is all about.”
The following year, the Lakers returned to the Finals against New York. This time, they lost in five games.
In 1973-74, LA finished the regular season 47-35 and lost to the Bucks in the Conference Semifinals.
West averaged 20.3 points, 3.7 boards, and 6.6 assists per game.
He intended to return for another season but reportedly was rebuffed by Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke.
According to West, Cooke “basically told my agent to go to hell. I felt I was deceived. When you feel that you’re deceived you don’t want any part of the organization that deceived you. I could’ve played another very good year. Every athlete says that. But I could’ve, and I knew I could’ve. But I could never have played for the Lakers again, and I wasn’t going to play for anybody else.”
With that, West retired.
In 14 NBA seasons, he had 25,192 points, 6,238 assists, and 5,366 rebounds, which averaged 27 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game.
West was named an All-Star 14 times, a First-Team All-NBA member 10 times, a four-time NBA All-Defense First-Team member, and was the league scoring champ in 1970 and assists leader in 1972.
The Only Players To Lead The NBA In Scoring And Make The All-Defensive Team In The Same Season
Michael Jordan 9x
Kobe Bryant 2x
Jerry West 1x pic.twitter.com/VOBts7kw4e
— Real Talk 🏀 (@RealTalk900) January 16, 2022
In addition to his accolades, West won a world title in 1972 and was named to the NBA’s 35th, 50th, and 75th Anniversary Teams.
In 1979, he was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
His number 44 was retired by the Lakers and, at the time of his retirement, West had scored more points than any Laker in franchise history.
West Becomes Coach of the Lakers
Although Cooke didn’t envision West returning for a 15th season, the owner believed his now-former player could be a great coach.
Before the 1976-77 season, West was hired to be the Lakers’ new head coach.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) August 19, 2017
For the next three years, West worked with league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to establish the core of what would be the next LA dynasty.
From 1976 through 1979, the Lakers reached the playoffs, but would only advance as far as the Conference Finals before losing.
After the 1978-79 season, West stepped down from his coaching role and moved into the Lakers front office.
Stellar Executive Career with LA
West spent the next three seasons as a scout for LA and then became their general manager in 1982.
His eye for talent was impeccable and he spent the next decade building championship teams.
With players such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy, the Lakers won world titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988.
Jerry West continues to make banner moves as an executive:
◼️ Helped build 1980s Lakers dynasty
◼️ Traded Vlade Divac for Kobe
◼️ Convinced Shaq to sign with LAL
◼️ Stopped Klay-for-Kevin Love trade
◼️ Helped recruit KD to Warriors
◼️ Signed Kawhi & PG13 in one night pic.twitter.com/dQrXniwqSa
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 6, 2019
The franchise also lost in the Finals in 1983, 1984, 1989, and 1991.
As the Lakers rolled through opponents and won titles, West was as focused as he was when he played the game.
“If I’m not nervous, if I don’t have at least a little bit of the same self-doubt and anxious feelings I had when I started playing, then it will be time for me to go on,” he told the Orange County Register in 1990. “I must have that tension.”
After a decade of glory, the team reached a low in 1993-94 when they missed the postseason for the first time since the mid-1970s.
However, the following year saw a 15 game improvement and led to West being named NBA Executive of the Year.
In 1996, he traded center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the rights to Kobe Bryant.
Then, he signed free agent center Shaquille O’Neal away from the Orlando Magic.
Coach Phil Jackson came aboard in 1999 and the team began another championship run.
The duo of Shaq and Kobe would win three straight titles between 1999-2000 and 2001-02.
However, after the ‘99-2000 season, West left the team.
Executive Stints with the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Clippers
In April of 2002, West was hired by the Memphis Grizzlies to be their general manager.
On this day in 2002, the Grizzlies hired Jerry West as the President of Basketball Operations. pic.twitter.com/gVVSCOx6xR
— Grizzlies History (@Grizzstory) April 30, 2019
The hiring shocked the public as Memphis was not a marquee NBA location like LA.
However, West looked at the opportunity as a chance to build something special.
“I’ve always wondered how it would be to build a winning franchise that has not experienced much success. I want to help make a difference,” West said at the time.
West quickly built the team around players such as Pau Gasol and Mike Miller and he hired coach Hubie Brown.
In 2003-04, the Grizzlies won 50 games, the most in franchise history to that point.
Brown was named Coach of the Year and West was named Executive of the Year for the second time.
After the 2006-07 season, West stepped down.
Four years later, West joined the Golden State Warriors as an executive board member and minority team owner.
While a member of the Warriors front office, the team won two championships.
In December of 2017, West announced that he was taking a role as an executive board member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
— O.C. Register (@ocregister) June 19, 2017
He is currently a member of the Clippers’ executive board and still going strong at age 83.
Legacy and “Logo” Conversation
As a player and executive, West has won eight world titles.
He is considered one of the best players in NBA history, as evidenced by frequent appearances on the NBA Anniversary teams.
However, even the younger generation who might not be familiar with West’s playing and executive career actually know who he is.
That’s because, since 1969, West’s silhouette has been the logo of the NBA.
The logo came about when former league commissioner J. Walter Kennedy asked Alan Siegel, a brand identity consultant, to design a new logo for the league.
What iconic photo should be the new NBA logo? Is it time? pic.twitter.com/yvO5uIC1NN
— Raw Naked Art (#RNA) (@RawNakedArt) February 24, 2021
Kennedy liked the red, white, and blue logo of a silhouetted player used by Major League Baseball.
Siegel poured through a number of pictures of former players and settled on three possible athletes.
They included West, Abdul-Jabbar, and Chamberlin.
Siegel chose a photo he liked of West and that image has been used ever since.
However, the league has never officially recognized that West is the logo.
“There’s no record of it here,” spokesman Tim Frank said earlier this year.
(Numerous writers believe West would be entitled to royalties for his image if the league admitted he was the logo).
Kyrie Irving says the NBA should change the logo to Kobe Bryant.
People will give him a hard time because of who he is, but just to be clear — Jerry West doesn't even want to be the logo anymore.
"If they would want to change it, I wish they would," West said in 2017. pic.twitter.com/wVeUiK8ujn
— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) February 24, 2021
For his part, West has never felt comfortable being “The Logo” and wishes the league would change it.
“I’ve said it more than once, and it’s flattering if that’s me — and I know it is me — but it is flattering. … If I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I really would. … I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself… that’s just not who I am, period. If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would,” said West in 2017.
Many current NBA players agree and several have suggested that a new logo with the silhouette of the late Kobe Bryant would be perfect.
“He (Bryant) was the standard for our generation, and he will continue on, and I want that to be something in history that is changed forever, that our generation was part of that change,” said Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving about the proposed change in early 2021.
Regardless of the possible logo change, West’s legacy will continue as the standard-bearer of success in basketball.
He was a champion in every sense of the word and is still admired by former opponents.
“…Jerry is the logo man, but to us [players], Jerry was not a silhouette. He was a man with a soul,” Boston Celtics great Bill Russell said.