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NBA: Jerry West, the Lakers' 'Mr. Clutch,' dies aged 86

June 13, 2024

No matter your age, if you've watched any NBA basketball game at all you may know Jerry West without realizing it. One of his nicknames was "The Logo," for the human silhouette on the NBA's emblem is almost surely his.

Jerry West (wearing number 44) seen dribbling past Jim Washington and Bob Boozer (right) of the Chicago Bulls during a March 26, 1968, Western Division NBA playoff game
Jerry West established himself as basketball royalty in a career that spanned more than 60 yearsImage: HPM/AP/picture alliance

Three-time NBA Hall of Fame basketball player and executive Jerry West has died at the age of 86.

A statement released by the Los Angeles Clippers, for whom West continued to work as a consultant, said he died Wednesday morning with his wife Karen by his side.

West, who was born and raised in rural Chelyan, West Virginia, said in his 2011 autobiography, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," that he had turned to basketball as a form of therapy during a childhood that had far more anger than love, thanks to an abusive father.

As a young boy he spent countless hours shooting into a hoop nailed to the side of a shed. His dedication would lead him to glory beyond his wildest dreams. 

From local hero to Olympic champion 

His journey began with him leading his East Bank High School team to a state championship while becoming the first high schooler in the state to score more than 900 points in a season. 

A statue of Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West at the Staples Center where the team plays today
Jerry West set high school, college and professional scoring records that stand to this dayImage: Image of Sport/Newscom/picture alliance

He would then lead the University of West Virginia to the 1959 NCAA college basketball championship where his team lost to California by one point in the final. West's record for UWV's highest all-time scoring average still stands. 

In 1960, he won gold with team USA at the Rome Olympics.

West then joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1961. He would spend the entirety of his 14-year playing career with the team. His excellence on the court reflected by the fact that he was selected as an All-Star in each of those 14 seasons. 

Racking up scoring records that still stand — one and two points at a time

A force to be reckoned with on the hardwood, West was the scoring king of the 1960s and early 70's, sinking 25,000 career points — all before the introduction of the three-point line.

West led the Lakers to nine championships finals as a player. Though he was named the championship series MVP in the Lakers' 1969 loss to the Boston Celtics — the only time that distinction went to a player on the losing side — he ultimately won only one championship ring as a player, in 1972.

In the process, West, who gained the nickname "Mr. Clutch" for making key plays under pressure, provided basketball with one of its most thrilling moments by sinking a half-court buzzer-beater against the New York Knicks to send game 3 of the 1970 championship into overtime.

West was also known by another nickname, "The Logo," due to the widely accepted legend that it was he who was the inspiration for the league's iconic logo of a dribbling player on a red and blue ground. "While it's never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in 2021, "it sure looks a lot like him." 

'A dreamer' who won eight NBA championships from the front office 

After retirement, West continued to dominate the game, this time as a general manager. He remained with the Lakers franchise helping build eight championship-winning teams and recruiting the likes of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

Jerry West, seated, speaks during the LA Sports Awards in 2020
Jerry West defined the Los Angeles Lakers as a player and general managerImage: Medianews Group/Orange County Register/ZUMA/picture alliance

Reactions to his passing were numerous Wednesday.

"Will truly miss our convos my dear friend! My thoughts and prayers go out to your wonderful family! Forever love Jerry! Rest in Paradise my guy!," wrote LeBron James on the social media platform X.

Fellow Hall of Famer Julius Erving wrote: "May my all-time first team shooting guard rest in peace knowing he paved the way for defining greatness on the hardwood, excellence in the front office and living life his way. Jerry is one of one and claims the right to be the logo forever. My condolences to his family."

West was inducted into the NBA hall of fame as a player in 1980, as an Olympian in 2010, and will be inducted as a GM later this year. 

He was active in the sport till the end and was considered basketball royalty. Wherever he went, lines of players, including the likes of LeBron James, would regularly line up for the chance to pay their respects.

In 2019, when West was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America's highest civilian honor — he said: "You know, it never ceases to amaze me the places you can go in this world chasing a bouncing ball. 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 (....) thanks to that bouncing ball."

js,msh/rm (AFP, Reuters)