NBA legend Jerry West dies at age 86

Jerry West, the inspiration for the NBA's logo, died peacefully at his home at the age of 86, the Los Angeles Clippers announced Wednesday.

One of basketball's most accomplished contributors, West was a staple of the sport across eight decades, winning nine championships as a player, scout, coach, executive and consultant. He was an architect of the Los Angeles Lakers' 10 titles in the 1980s and 2000s and an adviser to the dynastic Golden State Warriors.

Long before West established himself as arguably the greatest general manager in NBA history, he was among the league's first superstars. A legend of West Virginia high school and college basketball and co-captain of the 1960 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, West made the All-Star Game each season of a 14-year career decorated with 12 All-NBA selections and five All-Defensive appearances, all for the Lakers.

He won a single title in nine trips to the NBA Finals, heartbreakingly losing six title series to Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, and West's Finals MVP award in 1969 remains the only time the honor has been bestowed on a member of the losing team. He averaged 37.9 points per game in a seven-game loss to the Celtics.

“He took a loss harder than any player I’ve ever known,” late and legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn once said of West. “He would sit by himself and stare into space. A loss just ripped his guts out.”

A trailblazing scoring guard and relentless competitor, West was a deadly shooter before the advent of the 3-point line, and his most famous shot came in the form of a 60-foot buzzer beater that sent Game 3 of the 1970 Finals into overtime against the New York Knicks. He joined Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the league's first 25,000-point scorers. West averaged 27 points, 6.7 points and 5.8 rebounds for his career.

"Jerry West was a basketball genius and a defining figure in our league for more than 60 years," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "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."

The late Hot Rod Hundley once described his fellow West Virginian and Lakers teammate as "the greatest competitor I've ever seen. I don't care what you're playing, he wants to win. His nickname was 'Mr. Clutch,' and he carried that moniker well, because every time we were in that situation, boom, he'd make that shot."

West's pursuit of perfection led him to unprecedented success as a decision-maker in NBA front offices, twice winning Executive of the Year honors. First as a scout and then as GM, he helped construct the five-time champion "Showtime" Lakers of the 1980s. Before leaving the Lakers in 2000, West signed Shaquille O'Neal and traded for Kobe Bryant's draft rights, laying the foundation for another five titles from 2000-10.

West spent five seasons running the Memphis Grizzlies before retiring as a full-time shot-caller at the age of 69 in 2007. He joined the Golden State Warriors as an executive board member in 2011, famously opposing a would-be 2014 trade of Klay Thompson for Kevin Love and recruiting Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason. West left the Warriors after the second of their four championships in 2017 and joined the L.A. Clippers in the same capacity, contributing to the recruitment of Kawhi Leonard and trade for Paul George in July 2019.

West will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in October as a contributor, making him the first person to be enshrined as both a player and a contributor. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019.

“Obviously, a great icon for the basketball world,” Mavericks center Daniel Gafford said Wednesday at Dallas’ shootaround before Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals. “You know, never really just knew too much about him, but just knew what he meant to the game of basketball, and of course, he’s our logo — you know, we see him every day. Just rest in peace to him, and we’ll always be in remembrance of somebody that just had so much of an impact on the basketball world.”

West's personal life was not as charmed as his basketball career. The son of a West Virginia coal mine electrician, he endured a troubled childhood haunted by the 1951 death of his older brother in the Korean War. West served as a mental health advocate in his later years, sharing his lifelong battle with depression in a New York Times best-selling 2011 memoir titled, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life."

"The greatest honor a man can have is the respect and friendship of his peers. You have that more than any man I know," Russell told The Forum crowd on "Jerry West Night" in 1972. "Jerry, you are, in every sense of the word, truly a champion. If I could have one wish granted, it would be that you would always be happy."

One of West's five children, Jerry, is currently a professional scout for the Detroit Pistons.

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