Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the inspiration for the NBA logo, dies at 86 - WTOP News (2024)

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Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the inspiration for the NBA logo, dies at 86 - WTOP News (1)

The NBA has never confirmed the worst-kept secret in basketball, that Jerry West is the player whose silhouette is depicted in the league’s logo.

There’s probably a reason for that: West never wanted to be the logo.

“I’m just part of the game,” West said in a 2021 interview. “I never wanted to be any more than that. I’m extremely fortunate to have had the life that I’ve had, and that’s enough for me.”

His was a life like few others: an NBA and Olympic champion as a player, a champion as an executive and someone selected to be enshrined by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame not once, not twice, but three times. West died on Wednesday at age 86, the Los Angeles Clippers announced.

“We can only hope there is someone we meet during a crucial time in our lives that will change you in ways you could dream about,” said Miami Heat President Pat Riley, who played with and worked with West during their time together as Los Angeles Lakers. “Jerry was that person for me.”

West, nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” for his late-game exploits as a player, went into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1980 and again as a member of the gold medal-winning 1960 U.S. Olympic Team in 2010. He will be enshrined for a third time later this year as a contributor, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called West “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.”

West was “the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him,” the Clippers said in announcing his death. West’s wife, Karen, was by his side when he died, the Clippers said. West worked for the Clippers as a consultant for the last seven years.

He was an All-Star in all 14 of his NBA seasons, a 12-time All-NBA selection, part of the 1972 Lakers team that won a championship, an NBA Finals MVP when the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in 1969 — the first year that award was given out, and still the only time it went to a player on the losing team — and was selected as part of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team.

“He was absolutely my basketball sage: wise, loyal and so much fun,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said. “If you were in his presence, you felt his competitiveness and his drive. He cared about everything and everyone. From the first day I met Jerry seven years ago, he inspired me with his intellect, honesty and enthusiasm. He never stopped.”

West was general manager of championship teams with the Lakers, helping build the “Showtime” dynasty. He also worked in the front offices of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers. Among his many highlights as an executive with the Lakers: He drafted Magic Johnson and James Worthy, then brought in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to form a powerhouse title-winning duo.

His basketball life bridged generations: West played with Elgin Baylor, whom he called “the most supportive and the greatest player of that era,” and Wilt Chamberlain. As a coach and executive, he worked with a who’s-who of NBA stars from the last 40 years: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, O’Neal, Bryant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George among them.

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

Even in the final years of his life, West was considered basketball royalty. He routinely sat courtside at Summer League games in Las Vegas, often watching many games in a day while greeting long lines of players — LeBron James among them — who would approach to shake his hand.

“The game transcends many things,” West said while attending Summer League last year. “The players change, the style of play may change, but the respect that you learn in this game never changes.”

James, on social media, offered his condolences: “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!” the NBA’s all-time scoring leader wrote Wednesday.

West is 25th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He knew he was the model for the league’s logo — a player dribbling a ball, set against a red-and-blue background — but suggested in recent years that he wouldn’t mind if the league changed it.

“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 is still the NBA Finals’ all-time leader in total points, along with field goals made and attempted as well as free throws made and attempted. He played in the title series nine times with the Lakers; his teams went 1-2 against the New York Knicks, and 0-6 against the Celtics.

“Those damn Celtics,” he often said.

West also hit one of the most famed shots in finals history, a 60-footer at the buzzer of Game 3 of the 1970 series between the Knicks and Lakers to force overtime.

Tributes from across the sports world flowed freely Wednesday. The Los Angeles Dodgers released a statement calling West “an indelible figure on the Los Angeles sports landscape for more than 60 years,” and the NBA quickly organized a pregame tribute to West that was held before Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.

West is survived by sons David, Mark and Michael from his first marriage to Martha Jane Kane, which ended in divorce. He and second wife Karen had two sons, Ryan and Jonnie, who is married to former LPGA Tour star Michelle Wie.

Riley recalled times where, after a Lakers shootaround practice, he and West would head to a nearby drugstore “to eat the best burgers, drink milkshakes and savor a great custard pudding with fresh whipped cream” before going home to nap and get ready for that night’s game.

Evidently, burgers, milkshakes and custard worked wonders for West.

“Jerry would kick (butt) in a way that was so skilled and relentless,” Riley said. “I was so proud to be there in his presence. I watched, I learned. He made me believe. Being in that aura of greatness was mesmerizing.”

Michael Jordan said he considered West “a friend and mentor — like an older brother to me.”

“I valued his friendship and knowledge,” Jordan said. “I always wished I could have played against him as a competitor, but the more I came to know him, I wish I had been his teammate. I admired his basketball insights and he and I shared many similarities to how we approached the game.”

A native of Chelyan, West Virginia, West was known as a tenacious player who was rarely satisfied with his performance. He grew up shooting at a basket nailed to the side of a shed and often shot until his fingers bled. He became the first high school player in state history to score more than 900 points in a season, averaging 32.2 points in leading East Bank High to a state title.

Basketball, he would later reveal, was his therapy.

In his 2011 memoir, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life,” West chronicled a lifelong battle with depression. He wrote that his childhood was devoid of love and filled with anger as a result of an abusive father. He often felt worthless, and to combat that, he said he put his energy into playing the game.

West led West Virginia University — where he is still the all-time leader in scoring average — to the NCAA final in 1959, when the Mountaineers lost by one point to California.

“Today is one of the saddest days ever for West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia,” Mountaineers athletic director Wren Baker said. “Mountaineer hearts all over the world are broken with the passing of the great Jerry West.”

A year after he won Olympic gold in Rome, West joined the Lakers, where he spent his entire pro playing career. He was honored as one of the league’s 50 greatest players in 1996 and when the league expanded the polling to 75 players to commemorate its 75th anniversary in 2021, West was selected again.

“You know, it never ceases to amaze me the places you can go in this world chasing a bouncing ball,” West said in 2019, when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — by then-President Donald Trump. “My chase began in Chelyan, West Virginia, where I strung a wire 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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Associated Press Writer John Raby contributed to this report.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

Copyright ©2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the inspiration for the NBA logo, dies at 86 - WTOP News (8)

Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the inspiration for the NBA logo, dies at 86 - WTOP News (2024)
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