NBA all-time great Jerry West dies at age 86 (2024)

  • ESPN News Services

Jun 12, 2024, 11:56 PM

Jerry West, who was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame three times in a storied career as a player and executive and whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning at the age of 86, the LA Clippers announced.

West was the third player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points, was an All-Star every year of his career and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals nine times, winning one title, in 1971-72. He also was a 12-time All-NBA selection, an NBA Finals MVP as part of a losing team in 1969 -- the first year that award was given out and still the only time it went to a player on the losing squad -- and part of the NBA's 75th anniversary team.

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; and as a coach and executive, West worked with a who's who of NBA stars from the past 40 years, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

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

"I valued my friendship with Jerry and the knowledge he shared with me over many years about basketball and life. 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 was honored with a video tribute and a moment of silence before Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday night.

West was "the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him," the Clippers said in announcing his death, adding that Karen West was by his side when he died.

"We are overwhelmed by the love, support, and appreciation we have received from friends, colleagues, and basketball fans around the world," the West family said in a statement released by the Clippers. "Jerry took incredible pride in his life-long association with the NBA. He felt fortunate to have been a player, coach, and executive during a time of explosive growth in the league. Above all else, Jerry cherished the close friendships and mentorships he formed with teammates, coaches and players throughout his 64-year-career.

"We want to thank you, basketball fans everywhere, for supporting him. You fueled his burning desire to win -- he did it for you."

Following his playing career, West found title success as an NBA executive, building the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s that won five titles in that decade and overseeing the formation of the O'Neal-Bryant tandem. West then stayed for just the first title in 2000 as the Lakers went on to three-peat.

"Jerry West is forever a basketball icon," the Lakers said in a statement. "He brought Lakers fans their first championship in Los Angeles in 1972 and was integral to another six titles during his time with us. Our thoughts are with the West family and the many NBA fans who honor his legacy. Jerry West will always be a Lakers legend."

West became an adviser for the Clippers starting in 2017, helping to engineer the breakup of the team's "Lob City" core that led the way to the signing of Leonard and George. The Clippers reached the Western Conference finals for the first time in 2021.

"This is a hard day. I am honored to call Jerry a confidant, an advisor and a friend," Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. "Connie, my wife, called him my 'basketball dad.' He was absolutely my basketball sage: wise, loyal and so much fun. 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. I spent a lot of time with him, some of the best times of my life. He always lent an ear, and he always had a quip. He always left me laughing. I will miss him."

West also worked in the front offices of the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, with Warriors co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob saying West was "an incredible and unique individual."

"He did so much for the NBA, the game of basketball and each of the teams he was associated with during his unmatched career, including the Warriors," Lacob said. "Jerry had a profound and immense impact on our franchise and was instrumental in our recent decade of success."

West was a two-time All-American at West Virginia, where he averaged 24.8 points per game and helped the Mountaineers to the 1959 NCAA championship game, being named Final Four Most Outstanding Player despite a loss in the final to Cal. West also teamed with Oscar Robertson to lead the United States to a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

All those accomplishments made West one of only three players (along with Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwon) to win a Finals MVP, be named NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player and earn an Olympic gold medal.

Nicknamed "Mr. Clutch" for his late-game exploits as a player, West went into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1980 and again as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team in 2010. He will be enshrined for a third time later this year as a contributor.

West is still the NBA Finals' all-time leader in total points as well as field goals made and attempted and free throws made and attempted, but his teams went 1-2 against the New York Knicks and 0-6 against the Boston Celtics.

"Those damn Celtics," he often said.

West also hit one of the most famed shots in Finals history, a 60-footer at the buzzer of Game 3 of the 1970 series between the Knicks and Lakers to force overtime.

Even in the final years of his life, West was considered basketball royalty. He routinely sat courtside at NBA 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 and pay him respect.

"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."

In a pair of social media posts, James honored West as a friend and mentor and said he was "already missed."

Will truly miss our convos my dear friend! My thoughts and prayers goes out to your wonderful family! Forever love Jerry! Rest in Paradise my guy! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾🤎

— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 12, 2024

Fellow NBA great Michael Jordan said he considered West "a friend and mentor -- like an older brother to me."

"I valued his friendship and knowledge," Jordan said. "I always wished I could have played against him as a competitor, but the more I came to know him, I wish I had been his teammate. I admired his basketball insights and he and I shared many similarities to how we approached the game."

A native of Chelyan, West Virginia, West was known as a tenacious player who was rarely satisfied with his performance. He grew up shooting at a basket nailed to the side of a shed and often shot until his fingers bled. He became the first high school player in state history to score more than 900 points in a season, averaging 32.2 points per game in leading East Bank High to a state title.

Basketball, he would later reveal, was his therapy.

In his memoir, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," West chronicled a lifelong battle with depression. He wrote that his childhood was devoid of love and filled with anger as a result of an abusive father. He often felt worthless, and to combat that, he said he put his energy into playing the game.

"It never ceases to amaze me the places you can go in this world chasing a bouncing ball," West said in 2019 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- by then-President Donald Trump. "My chase began in Chelyan, West Virginia, where I strung a wire basket with no net to the side of a bridge. If your shot didn't go in, the ball rolled down a long bank and you would be chasing it forever. So you better make it.

"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. I've been able to see the sides, thanks to that bouncing ball."

West is 25th on the NBA career scoring list, and while the NBA has never confirmed that he was in fact the model for its logo -- a player dribbling a ball, set against a red-and-blue background -- the league has never said otherwise, 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NBA all-time great Jerry West dies at age 86 (2024)

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