I have worn the NBA Logo pretty much weekly since I was in school and like every serious basketball fan, I have known Hall of Famer Jerry West formed its famous silhouette for as long as I can remember. However I’d never actually stopped to think about how this famous pairing came to be. Although cloaked in mystery by the National Basketball Association and Jerry West himself, the answer to this question is actually pretty straightforward.
So, why is Jerry West the NBA Logo? A photo of Jerry West was chosen by brand identity consultant Alan Siegel to form the silhouette in the now iconic NBA Logo. Launched in 1969, featuring a photo taken by Wen Roberts, of Jerry West playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. This logo is still used today on all NBA branded products.
Jerry West and the NBA Logo, the full story
Before the fruitful merger of the NBA and ABA in 1976, the two rival leagues were locked in a battle for the soul of Basketball in America. As much as the on court product was important, both sides knew it was also a case of style and branding. The NBA approached New Yorker and Cornell alumni, Alan Siegel to help them create a fresh look for the brand that would stand out from the pack and set them apart from the ABA. The year before he had overseen the creation of the new Major League Baseball logo. Part of the brief was to use this template to create a logo that would work alongside the new MLB badge. He didn’t let them down. After pawing through thousands of classic images of the game, he came across a photo by Wen Roberts that he felt showed the dynamic nature of the game. The photo was of Jerry West, powering up the court, dribbling with his left hand and angling his body to shield the ball from his defender. After taking West’s silhouette and adding the now iconic red and blue to either side, the logo was taken on by the NBA. Since its launch in 1969 the logo has become synonymous with Basketball and generated billions of dollars in licensing revenue around the world. You can find it sewn onto every Nike Swingman, Mitchell & Ness authentic, and every vintage Champion Jersey. Not to mention team branded caps, coats, mugs and everything else the NBA can sell under their global brand.
To this day the NBA has refused to formally acknowledge that the logo is in fact based on Jerry West’s image. This isn’t due to any negativity towards Jerry West himself. He was, and still is, an exemplary ambassador for the league. Finishing his distinguished playing career in 1974 with 14 All-star appearances, 9 Finals appearances and one NBA Championship (1972). He went on to become successful both as a coach and member of various front office teams. The reason many people, including designer Alan Siegel, believe the NBA won’t acknowledge West’s image is used in the logo is because the logo itself represents all NBA players. Allowing it to be officially recognised as one man, would diminish its universal nature and change how it is viewed.
The more cynical amongst us believe it has a lot more to do with money than any belief that confirming something that everyone already believes will negatively impact the status of the logo and spread disharmony throughout the league. Jerry West has never received any money from the NBA for the fact his likeness is used as the single most identifiable part of their business. It’s highly likely that if they were to acknowledge it, West would have a big claim to some compensation. Despite his success, West played in a different time. He was one of the legends that paved the way for the current crop of NBA All-stars with their 100 million dollar contracts and clothing deals. Working well past the age many would have given in to a life of retirement, he is still toiling away helping to build yet another title contender in California. This time with the LA Clippers.
For his part, Jerry West himself has always been uncomfortable with the recognition his status as the NBA Logo has bought him. Publicly distancing himself from it and playing it down. He seems to prefer to let his significant on court achievements represent his legacy. In 1980 he was inducted into the hall of fame and in 1996 was voted one of the top 50 players of all time. It’s clear that he is much more than his most famous nickname, The Logo, would have us believe. In April 2017 on ESPNs “The Jump” West himself expressed his frustration. Claiming he wished it had never become public that he was the logo, stating that in many ways he wishes the NBA would change the logo entirely. Now that’s something that is not likely to happen, at least any time soon.
Who else was considered for the logo?
The designer of the logo Alan Siegel has publicly stated that Jerry West is the inspiration for the NBA Logo. During the process he considered images of all time greats such as Kareem Abdul Jabar, Wilt Chamberlain and John Havlicek. Loving the elegant posture West had in the photo, considering his many All-star appearances and status (that remains to this day) as the only person to ever have won Finals MVP while playing on the losing team. Siegel decided Jerry West was the one.
When Siegel presented the image to the NBA he didn’t officially or expressly state it was West in the image. He didn’t show his workings, by supplying the photo he had been inspired by. At the same time he has never denied it was West in the image. Many believe this grey area is what has allowed the NBA to deny the logo is based on West’s image. Only time will tell if they ever will. However after all these decades it seems unlikely their stance will ever change.
Why isn’t Michael Jordan the NBA Logo?
Michael Jordan, widely recognised as the greatest player of all time, is many things to the NBA. But he is not their logo. The most iconic image of Jordan forms the logo for Jordan brand.
Will the NBA ever change their logo?
It is unlikely that the NBA will ever change their logo. Known around the world and worth billions of dollars to their licensing. Besides, how could they come up with anything more iconic?
Is Kobe Bryant the NBA Logo?
Kobe is not the NBA Logo. He is one of the pantheon of Lakers on most All Time Great lists. However his image is not the silhouette featured on the NBA Logo