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Jerry West, Legendary NBA Player and Exec, Dies at 86

  • He had a Hall of Fame career as a player and excelled as an executive.
  • The inspiration for the league’s logo was 86.
Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has lost its logo. 

Jerry West, the iconic player and executive who led the Lakers to the 1972 title and was considered to be the inspiration for the league’s emblem, died Wednesday at the age of 86, the Clippers said. 

West had been serving as an executive board member and consultant for the organization since 2017. In his career as a player, coach, and executive, he had success at every stop. 

A native of West Virginia, West stayed home for college and led the Mountaineers to the 1959 NCAA title game, where they fell to California. He was the second pick in the ’69 NBA draft by the Minneapolis Lakers and enjoyed a 14-year pro career with the organization, which moved to Los Angeles before his rookie year. He was the first pick in the relocated franchise’s history. 

He averaged 27 points per game for his Hall of Fame career and retired in 1974. West’s nickname was “Mr. Clutch” due to his late-game heroics as a player. The 6-foot-3 guard remains the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP despite his team losing the series, which came in 1969 against the Celtics in a seven-game epic. 

West was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1980. West and Oscar Robertson led the team to a gold medal in the Rome Olympics. He will be enshrined later this summer as a contributor. 

Following his playing career, West coached the Lakers for three years before moving into a front office role during the franchise’s Showtime era. In his tenure as coach the team never had a losing season or missed the playoffs. While a member of the Lakers’ front office, he helped sustain the team’s success during the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar years and then laid the groundwork for the franchise’s three-peats in the late ’90s and early 2000s by famously trading Vlade Divac on the eve of the 1996 draft for the draft rights of a Philadelphia-area teenager named Kobe Bryant.

That same summer, West signed Shaquille O’Neal in free agency from the Magic. In 1999, a year before he left the organization, West hired Phil Jackson as coach, fresh off the end of the Bulls dynasty in which Jackson coached a team led by Michael Jordan to six NBA titles. 

In 2002 he was named the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies, a year after the team moved from Vancouver to what is one of the NBA’s smallest markets. West drafted future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol in ’01 and was named executive of the year for the second time in his career in ’04 after turning Memphis into a playoff team. 

West joined the Warriors as an executive board member in 2011 and famously threatened to resign from his job with Golden State if it traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014. A year later, Thompson and Stephen Curry, known as the Splash Brothers, led the organization to its first title in 40 years. Between his career as a player and executive, West won nine NBA titles. 

Before his death he had been working with the Clippers since 2017 in the same capacity with the Warriors and was involved in the team landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in ’19. In ’20, West and the Clippers were under NBA investigation for his role for the recruitment of Leonard to the team. The case was dismissed in ’22. 

West’s death comes just two and a half weeks after fellow NBA legend Bill Walton died from cancer at age 71. 

“Jerry West was a basketball genius and a defining figure in our league for more than 60 years,” league commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday. Silver said that West will become the first person inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and contributor.

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