Jerry West was the inspiration for the NBA logo, but he was conflicted about the honor

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Since 1969, Jerry West has been the faceless face of the NBA.

For those 5 1/2 decades, the NBA's logo has been a blank white silhouette of a player flanked by panels of blue and red. The player is dynamically dribbling a ball upcourt, seemingly ready to drive or to pass with flair.

By now, just about everybody knows the iconic silhouette belongs to West, the Los Angeles Lakers guard who died Wednesday at 86. Friends and fans alike often referred to West as “The Logo," even if the basketball icon himself felt decidedly uncomfortable about the nickname and the honor.

But West was one of the most exciting players of that era, a high-scoring guard and a playmaker who epitomized basketball's ideal combination of athleticism and skill in a thrilling sport that this once-secondary professional league would soon spread across the globe.

He was an ideal choice for the centerpiece of a logo created by brand consultant Alan Siegel and his partner, Bob Gale, who took about an hour to design it using a Sport Magazine photo of West taken by Wen Roberts. The designers didn't explicitly cite West as their template at the time, and the NBA has never definitively acknowledged that it's West on their brand, understandably not wanting to center its image on just one player.

Siegel eventually acknowledged what everyone already knew, saying West was indeed the inspiration for the design of the logo silhouette.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also essentially admitted it in 2021.

“While it’s never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West, it sure looks a lot like him,” Silver said with a smile.

West rarely acknowledged happiness or contentment with any of his achievements during his long public life in basketball, and his involvement in the logo was no exception.

In an interview with ESPN in 2017, West said he would be happy if the NBA took him out of the logo — if indeed he was actually the player in it, West said.

“It is flattering, but to me, I played in the time when they first started to try to market the league,” West said. "There were five people they were going to consider. I didn’t find out about it until the late commissioner told me about it, Walter Kennedy. ... I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself, and when people say that, that’s just not who I am, period. If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would.”

Others have also pushed for a change. A year after Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash, Kyrie Irving made an Instagram post of an NBA logo with Bryant's image superimposed over West's silhouette with the caption: “Gotta Happen, idc what anyone says. BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE.”

Irving's post was met with supportive comments by Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, along with players Stephen Jackson and LaMelo Ball.

Silver recently shot down the idea of changing the logo, recognizing its strong international recognition with West at the center.

West’s ambivalence about being The Logo always surprised Siegel, a high school basketball teammate of famed coach Larry Brown.

“The vast majority of people would love to have it as them, even though I never designed it as being him,” Siegel told three years ago. “He should be proud that the symbol is based on him. It isn’t him literally, but based on his style of dribbling and moving. But the more I heard about him and understood him, he just didn’t want it to be him. He felt uncomfortable with it."