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Basketball mourns death of iconic figure

Updated: 2024-06-14 09:32
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The NBA has never confirmed the worstkept secret in basketball: That Jerry West is the player whose silhouette is depicted in the league's logo.

There's probably a reason for that. West never wanted to be on the logo.

"I'm just part of the game," West said in a 2021 interview. "I never wanted to be any more than that. I'm extremely fortunate to have had the life that I've had, and that's enough for me."

Jerry West

His was a life like few others: an NBA and Olympic champion as a player, a champion as an executive and someone selected to be enshrined by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame not once, not twice, but three times. West died on Wednesday, aged 86, the Los Angeles Clippers announced.

"We can only hope there is someone we meet during a crucial time in our lives that will change us in ways we can only dream about," said Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who played with and worked with West during their time together as Los Angeles Lakers. "Jerry was that person for me."

West, nicknamed "Mr Clutch" for his late-game exploits, was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1980, and again in 2010 as a member of the gold medal-winning 1960 US Olympic Team.

He will be enshrined for a third time later this year as a contributor, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver called West "one of the greatest executives in sports history."

"He helped build eight championship teams during his tenure in the NBA — a legacy of achievement that mirrors his on-court excellence," Silver said. "And he will be enshrined this October into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, becoming the first person ever inducted as both a player and a contributor. I valued my friendship with Jerry, and the knowledge he shared with me over many years about basketball and life."

West was "the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him," the Clippers said in announcing his death. West's wife, Karen, was by his side when he died, the team reported. West worked for the Clippers as a consultant for the last seven years.

He was an All-Star in all 14 of his NBA seasons, a 12-time All-NBA selection, part of the 1972 Lakers team that won a championship, an NBA Finals MVP when the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in 1969 — the first year that the award was given out, and still the only time it went to a player on the losing team — and was selected as part of the NBA's 75th anniversary team.

"He was absolutely my basketball sage: wise, loyal and so much fun," Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said. "If you were in his presence, you felt his competitiveness and his drive. He cared about everything and everyone. From the first day I met Jerry seven years ago, he inspired me with his intellect, honesty and enthusiasm. He never stopped."

West was general manager of championship teams with the Lakers, helping build the "Showtime" dynasty. He also worked in the front offices of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers. Among his many highlights as an executive with the Lakers: He drafted Magic Johnson and James Worthy, then brought in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to form a powerhouse title-winning duo.

His basketball life bridged generations: West played with Elgin Baylor, whom he called "the most supportive and the greatest player of that era," and Wilt Chamberlain. As a coach and executive, he worked with a who's-who of NBA stars from the last 40 years: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, O'Neal, Bryant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George among them.

"I marvel at them, at the joy they bring to basketball fans all over the world," West said in 2019.

Even in the final years of his life, West was considered basketball royalty. He routinely sat courtside at Summer League games in Las Vegas, often watching many games in a day while greeting long lines of players — LeBron James among them — who would approach to shake his hand.

"The game transcends many things," West said 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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