Jerry West dead at 86: Lakers legend whose silhouette remains the NBA’s logo passes away with wife Karen by his side

Jerry West, the basketball legend whose silhouette still serves as the NBA’s logo, has passed away at 86. The Los Angeles Clippers revealed the news Wednesday, stating that West’s wife Karen was by his side. 

Known as ‘Zeke from Cabin Creek,’ the West Virginia native teamed with Elgin Baylor to turn the Los Angeles Lakers into a perennial contender in the 1960s, which coincided with Bill Russell’s dominance with the rival Boston Celtics. Upon Russell’s retirement in 1969, West and Wilt Chamberlain led the Lakers to the 1972 NBA title, albeit without the retired Baylor. 

Chamberlain and Baylor died in 1999 and 2021, respectively. West, meanwhile, went on to have a remarkable front-office career, winning eight NBA crowns and two Executive of the Year awards. He remained in an executive role with the Clippers at the time of his death. 

News of West’s passing sparked an immediate outpouring of grief in the basketball world, including ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Lakers star LeBron James. 

‘Will truly miss our convos my dear friend!’ James wrote on X. ‘My thoughts and prayers goes out to your wonderful family! Forever love Jerry! Rest in Paradise my guy! 

Karen West, former NBA player Jerry West and son Jonnie West at an event in 2012 

West shoots a free throw during a 1971 game against the Knicks at the Great Western Forum

West shoots a free throw during a 1971 game against the Knicks at the Great Western Forum 

‘I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,’ Greenberg told his ESPN audience on Wednesday. ‘One of the greatest figures in the history of American sports, one of the greatest players and one of the most important people in the history of basketball in this or any country has died. Jerry West has died at the age of 86.’ 

In their statement, the Clippers described West as ‘the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him.’

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued his own statement on Wednesday.

‘Jerry West was a basketball genius and a defining figure in our league for more than 60 years,’ Silver wrote. ‘He distinguished himself not only as an NBA champion and an All-Star in all 14 of his playing seasons, but also as a consummate competitor who embraced the biggest moments. He was the league’s first Finals MVP and made rising to the occasion his signature quality, earning him the nickname ”Mr. Clutch.”

‘I valued my friendship with Jerry and the knowledge he shared with me over many years about basketball and life,’ Silver continued. ‘On behalf of the NBA, we send our deepest condolences to Jerry’s wife, Karen, his family and his many friends in the NBA community.’

West’s on-court success often came at a price. As he admitted years later, the 6-foot-3 guard often battled depression in the offseason, much of which was tied to his six NBA Finals defeats to the Boston Celtics. 

‘I would go to bed feeling like I didn’t even want to live,’ West told HBO. ‘I’ve been so low sometimes and when everyone else would be so high because I didn’t like myself.’ 

A mostly private figure, West had been with Karen since 1987 and the couple have two sons, Ryan and Jonnie, the later of whom played basketball at his father’s alma mater, WVU, and later married golfer Michelle Wie. 

Previously West was married to his college sweetheart, with whom he had three sons: David, Mark and Michael.

The iconic NBA logo was made by using the silhouette of Lakers legend Jerry West

The iconic NBA logo was made by using the silhouette of Lakers legend Jerry West 

The current NBA logo was created by Alan Siegel in 1969 by incorporating Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West's silhouette from a photo (above) taken by Wen Roberts

The current NBA logo was created by Alan Siegel in 1969 by incorporating Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West’s silhouette from a photo (above) taken by Wen Roberts

The second-overall pick in the 1960 draft, West was named to 14 All-Star teams during his career, while averaging 27 points a game. 

He went on to have an unsuccessful three-year run as Lakers head coach before taking up a scouting role and then becoming the team’s general manager during the famed ‘Showtime’ era. 

During the 80s and early 90s, West was credited with acquiring Lakers greats, including James Worthy, Byron Scott, AC Green, Vlade Divac, Nick Van Exel, and Derek Fisher.

Later, West built the Lakers team that won three NBA titles between 2000 and 2002 with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson. 

West played a key role in trading for Bryant after he was originally selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 draft – using Divac as bait to land the 17-year-old phenom. 

West left the Lakers to become general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002 before retiring five years later. He ultimately earned his seventh and eighth titles as an executive with Golden State in 2015 and 2017, albeit in a secondary role. 

He also joined the board of the Clippers in 2017, helping to successfully recruit two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as a free agent in 2020.

All-American Jerry West tries to look his normal calm self as he poses with Yvonne DeCarlo

All-American Jerry West tries to look his normal calm self as he poses with Yvonne DeCarlo 

It was West who brought Kobe Bryant to the Lakers with a draft-day trade for Vlade Divac

It was West who brought Kobe Bryant to the Lakers with a draft-day trade for Vlade Divac 

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West (44), Wilt Chamberlain (13), and Elgin Baylor (22)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West (44), Wilt Chamberlain (13), and Elgin Baylor (22)

Los Angeles Lakers guard (44) Jerry West comes off screen set by center (13) Wilt Chamberlain against the Cincinnati Royals

West's All-Star NBA career gave way to lifelong friendships with players like Chamberlain

West’s All-Star NBA career gave way to lifelong friendships with players like Chamberlain

Trump presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jerry West in September of 2019

Trump presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jerry West in September of 2019 

Jerry West is pictured in 2018 alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) and Bill Russell (right)

Jerry West is pictured in 2018 alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) and Bill Russell (right)

West, right, passes the ball to Wilt Chamberlain during an NBA Finals game against the Knicks

West, right, passes the ball to Wilt Chamberlain during an NBA Finals game against the Knicks 

The current NBA logo was created by Alan Siegel in 1969 by incorporating West’s silhouette from a photo taken by Wen Roberts.

The logo was modeled after Major League Baseball’s, which was a silhouette of a player that many erroneously believe to be Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew. (The image is supposedly a composite of several players in the late 1960s).

The West logo debuted in 1971, and although the NBA has never confirmed that it is, indeed, him, there have been no denials either. 

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

A Hall of Fame player with the Lakers, West went on to coach the team for a few unsuccessful seasons in the late 1970s before ultimately assembling the team that won three consecutive titles in the early 2000s.

While serving as the Lakers general manager in the mid-1990s, West traded star center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the draft rights to a 17-year-old Bryant.

Bryant rewarded West by winning the NBA’ Sixth Man of the Year award as a rookie, and ultimately becoming an 18-time All-Star.

West later described himself as Bryant’s surrogate father due to their close bond.

Many younger generations of players became familiar with West during Summer League play, where he would often evaluate the NBA’s young talent. 

‘The game transcends many things,’ West told The Associated Press 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.’ 

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