Why Lakers Legend Jerry West's Silhouette Is Featured On The NBA Logo

Many of the iconic symbols, logos, and other identifying regalia that we associate with various institutions are based on real people. For example, the Statue of Liberty was (probably, mostly) based on a real woman; in this case, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's mother, Augusta Charlotte. Similarly, the Academy Award statuette is (probably, mostly) based on Mexican director and actor Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez (per NPR).

For about five decades, the logo of the National Basketball Association (NBA) — referred to within the industry simply as "The Logo," according to the NBA's website — has been a red, white, and blue image of a man dribbling a ball, leaning slightly to his right. And while the NBA has declined to officially say that it's Jerry West, it's undoubtedly Jerry West, according to West himself and just about anyone who's ever been associated with him or the logo.

West himself admits that he's had a love-hate relationship with being the unofficial-official model of the institution that made him a legend.

Jerry West Becomes A Logo

Jerry West (pictured above, holding the ball) had an exceptionally difficult childhood, according to the English-language edition of AS. So abusive was his father that the young lad slept with a gun under his pillow should his father actually try to kill him. He was also a sickly child, but by his high school years, he'd begun to excel on the basketball court. He then went on to excel in college, in the Olympics, and ultimately, in professional basketball in the NBA. According to StatMuse, in his 14 years in the league, all of which were with the LA Lakers, he had a career average 27.0 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 2.6 steals per game in 932 regular season games. Between 1960 and 1974, he played in 14 All-Star games and on one championship-winning team. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.

According to FanBuzz, it was in 1969 that the NBA contacted a brand identity consultant named Alan Siegel to create a logo. He found an image of West in a magazine and decided that the photo exemplified the qualities of a professional basketball player (by the standards of the time).

He Has A Love-Hate Relationship With The Image

Though he's been associated with the NBA logo for over 50 years now, Jerry West himself freely admits that he has a love-hate relationship with it. For starters, as the NBA website reports, there's the issue of money. Put simply, because the league has not officially acknowledged that West is the model for the logo, that has shut him out of some amount of money for the use of his image, although exactly how much is far from certain. At various points in his career, he's described his association with the logo as "burdensome" and has stated that he wished the league had done something differently (per NBA). On the other hand, he used the image liberally on the cover of his book, "West by West."

There's also the matter that the symbol of the league is a white man whose build exemplified 1960s standards of athleticism, but the rail-thin player is, compared to his modern peers, small and poorly-built. Further, using a white man as the model for its logo ignores the contributions of Black players in the league. Of late, there's been a move to replace the logo, perhaps with a Black player like Kobe Bryant. West has publicly stated that he wouldn't have a problem with the league adopting a new logo.