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How Jerry West became the NBA logo — and why David Stern never admitted to it

The NBA logo at half court that was inspired by Lakers great Jerry West, who died Wednesday at 86.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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David Stern went to his grave without admitting that Jerry West was the inspiration for the NBA logo. West died Wednesday at 86 knowing with certainty that he was “The Logo” — and he wasn’t really happy about it, especially the capital letters.

Stern spent 30 years as the NBA’s longest-serving commissioner before handing the title to his longtime lieutenant Adam Silver in 2014. He is credited with shepherding the league through turbulent times and growing it into the global powerhouse it is today.

Yet he refused to acknowledge that West was the one, the logo, the iconic silhouette developed in 1969 when West was at the peak of his 14-year Hall of Fame career with the Lakers.

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Stern’s reason for staying mum is unclear because offering an explanation for something he denied in the first place would have defied logic. Even after the designer of the logo, Alan Siegel, told The Times’ Jerry Crowe in 2010 that “It’s Jerry West,” Stern wouldn’t relent.

Siegel was a brand identity consultant hired by then-NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy to create a logo that mirrored the one Siegel supervised a year earlier for Major League Baseball’s centennial.

Jerry West took the Lakers to stunning heights season after season as a player, coach and general manager.

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The late sportswriter and broadcaster Dick Schaap was Siegel’s friend and gave him access to the photo archives at Sport magazine.

“I found this picture of Jerry West dribbling down the court,” Siegel said. “And, of course, growing up in New York and my father having season tickets for college and pro games at Madison Square Garden, I’d seen West play a lot.”

Siegel came up with nearly 50 designs, several inspired by the shot of West dribbling taken by Wen Roberts. Kennedy chose the derivative of the baseball logo with its All-American red, white and blue colors.

“And in those days, it was top down,” Siegel said. “[Kennedy] made the decision. There was no research. There was no discussion. He said, ‘We’re doing this.’”

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Kennedy was succeeded by Larry O’Brien, whose name is familiar mainly because the NBA championship trophy is named after him. Stern came next, and left others to theorize why he wouldn’t state the obvious when it came to West and the logo.

LeBron James and Michael Jordan join others in the NBA saluting the late Jerry West, who became a star as a Lakers player and later transformed the league as an executive.

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Was it because West was white in a league dominated by Black players?

Was it because West might request royalties (the most he was paid as a player was $90,000)?

Siegel, for his part, had a theory.

“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it,” he said. “It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”

West more than once expressed that he’d have preferred it that way.

“I wish that it had never gotten out that I’m the logo,” he told ESPN’s “The Jump” eight years ago. “I really do. 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.

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“But to me, I played in a time when they first started to try to market the league. There were five people that they were going to consider, and I didn’t find out about it until [Kennedy] told me about it. ... Again, it’s flattering, but if I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I really would.”

Silver, who is in his 11th season as commissioner, has come the closest to acknowledging that West, indeed, is the logo.

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“While it’s never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West,” he said in 2021, “it sure looks a lot like him.”

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