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Jerry West became the NBA logo for a reason

Somewhere, young kids are probably playing basketball, and a few of them may be sporting Air Jordan sneakers. They likely know the shoes were inspired by the legendary Michael Jordan–the name is a dead giveaway, as is the silhouette of him skying toward the hoop.

Those same kids may also be using a basketball stamped with the official NBA logo, a logo that includes a silhouette inspired by another hoops legend: Jerry West.

West, who died on Wednesday at the age of 86, leaves behind a basketball resume that’s hard to top. When discussing the all-time greats of the game, West’s name often comes up in an “Oh yeah!” kind of way–if it’s even mentioned at all.

West hailed from Chelyan, West Virginia, where he would eventually fall in love with the game of basketball. Once hooked, he played for hours every day and in all elements–including rain and snow. He became a basketball star at East Bank High School where he led his team to a state championship in 1956. His school was so appreciative of West’s contributions that it changed its name to “West Bank” every year on the anniversary of the state title until it closed in 1999.

Despite receiving dozens of scholarship offers, West chose to play his college ball close to home and enrolled at West Virginia University in 1956.

After leading the freshmen team to an undefeated season, West spent the next three years helping the varsity Mountaineers become one of the best teams in the country. He was named Third-team All-America in 1958, before being voted a consensus First-team All-America in 1959 and 1960. West Virginia made it all the way to the national title game in West’s junior year, and he scored a combined 160 points in the postseason, tying the record for the then five-game tournament. Despite the Mountaineers’ close loss to California in the championship game–71-70–West was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

Following another outstanding year in 1960 by WVU, including an upset victory at Kentucky (West scored 19 points with a broken nose), the Minneapolis Lakers made West the second pick of the 1960 NBA Draft. The Lakers subsequently moved to California, effectively making West the first draft pick in the history of the Los Angeles era.

Before his professional career began, West helped lead the United States men’s basketball team to a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics.

Already nicknamed “Zeke from Cabin Creek,” West soon became known as Mr. Outside to Elgin Baylor’s Mr. Inside in Los Angeles. The 6-3 guard averaged 30.8 points per game during his second season, as the Lakers reached the 1962 NBA Finals before falling to the Celtics in seven games.

Boston needed just six games to defeat the Lakers in the Finals the next season.

Following a bit of a down year in 1964, the Lakers opened the 1965 postseason against the Baltimore Bullets; Los Angeles won in five games, as West averaged 46.3 points for the series–a playoff record that still stands today. Unfortunately, the Lakers lost to Boston in the Finals again–this time in five games.

The Celtics defeated LA in seven games the following year.

After losing to the Celtics yet again in the Finals in 1968–even with a bit of a super team that included West, Baylor and the newly-acquired Wilt Chamberlain–the Lakers appeared to have Boston on the ropes in the 1969 championship round. Los Angeles was comfortably ahead in Game 5, but West suffered a severe hamstring injury late in the contest. Despite an injured West scoring 26 points, the Celtics won Game 6 in Boston. Even though Game 7 was winner-take-all, and even though the Celtics and Bill Russell had terrorized Los Angeles throughout the 1960s, Lakers owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was so confident that he placed thousands of balloons in the rafters at the old Forum in anticipation of a championship celebration. This naturally peeved off the Celtics, but it also angered West. Inspired in part by this show of disrespect, Boston was ahead by 15 points after three quarters. But West willed the Lakers back into the game by hitting several key shots in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, his 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists weren’t enough in a 108-106 defeat. However, for his efforts, West was named NBA Finals MVP, becoming the first and only player from the losing team to receive such an honor.

The Lakers were back in the Finals in 1970–this time against the New York Knicks–and “Mr. Clutch,” West’s third nickname, was on full display when his 60-foot shot at the buzzer shocked the Knicks, delighted the home fans at the Forum and sent Game 3 into overtime. Los Angeles lost that game, however, and the series in seven.

The 1971-1972 Lakers had one of the best seasons in NBA history, winning 69 regular-season games–including 33 in a row at one point. LA took no prisoners in the postseason and finally, finally won a championship after defeating New York in five games in the NBA Finals. After eight straight losses in the last game or series–including one national title game and seven NBA Finals–West could celebrate a championship at long last.

The Knicks avenged their Finals loss the next season, defeating Los Angeles in five games.

West would retire following the 1974 campaign.

West was a 14-time NBA All-Star. He was voted NBA First-Team in 10 of his 15 seasons. He was the 1970 scoring champion. He was the 1972 assists leader. Yet, despite having a Hall of Fame career, winning a title and having his No. 44 retired by both the Lakers and Mountaineers, West still had a competitive fire that needed to be quenched, so he decided to get into coaching in 1976. While he couldn’t lead Los Angeles back to the Promised Land as a head coach, he enjoyed championship success as a scout in 1980 and 1982 before becoming the team’s general manager for the 1982-1983 season. The Lakers won three more titles in the 1980s–including two over those ever-present Celtics–before West’s Showtime blueprint got old and gave way to the Pistons and Bulls.

West rebuilt the Lakers in the mid-90’s when he traded for high school phenom, Kobe Bryant, and signed center Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers were back in the Finals in 2000 and defeated the Pacers in six games. West departed after that title, but the team he built would go on to three-peat.

For whatever reason, the relationship between West and the Lakers became strained after he departed, and he was hired as general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002. West didn’t lead the Grizzlies to a title, but he was named Executive of the Year for a second time in 2004.

West retired in 2007 but couldn’t stay away from his beloved sport for very long and joined the Golden State Warriors as a board member in 2011. The Warriors won two titles with West around.

West spent his final years as a board member and consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers.

It’s hard to say why West and the Lakers were estranged at the end, but we are talking about a man who likely dealt with demons and turmoil his whole life. West’s father was so abusive to him as a child that, according to his Wikipedia Page, he slept with a loaded shotgun by his side. Also, his older brother was killed in the Korean War.

That kind of trauma stays with a person forever.

Maybe West regretted only winning one NBA title as a player. In fact, he often said that winning a championship never erased the hurt he felt from all of the losses.

In addition to his basketball legacy, West may have been the most famous athlete to come out of the state of West Virginia–not Sam Huff, George Brett or Randy Moss.

West was named to the NBA’s 35th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams.

He finished his career with 25,192 points (27 per game), and his jump shot was so pure and perfect, that one wonders what his stats would have looked like had he played in the three-point era.

West may have only won one title, but he was every bit as good at his craft as the likes of Russell, Magic, Larry Bird, Jordan, Bryant and LeBron James were/are at theirs. While he couldn’t will his teams to more championships as a player, he knew how to do that as an NBA executive.

West is in the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

West is NBA royalty. How could he not be? His silhouette inspired the league’s logo. That brings me to his fourth nickname: “The Logo.”

I wonder if those kids I mentioned earlier know who inspired the logo on the basketball they’re using.

They should know that, and if they don’t, they should learn about it.

After all, there may not be an Air Jordan logo if not for the Jerry West logo.


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