The Real Story of the NBA Logo and Former Player Jerry West

Jerry West will go down in NBA history as one of the greatest Lakers of all time, as well as one of the best point guards ever. He earned 14 straight trips to the All-Star Game and made it to the NBA Finals nine times, although he only notched one win. West also holds the quiet distinction of being the silhouette featured on the NBA logo.

While most fans understand that the logo was based on an image of West, few know the real story of how the logo came to be.

The story behind the NBA logo

Jerry West attends an NBA game in 2020
Jerry West attends an NBA game in 2020 | Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

If you search Google for “NBA logo photo,” chances are you will come up with a picture of Jerry West in a yellow Lakers uniform. West is driving to the hoop, his body describing a diagonal, almost lightning bolt-like angle from left to right. Yet if you superimpose that image over the NBA logo, you’ll find that the two don’t really match up at all.

The silhouette in the logo is in a much more upright position, with its arms held tighter against the body. The NBA’s official position has always been that, while the famous photo of West was an inspiration, the logo wasn’t mean to portray him specifically. Yet if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the logo conforms almost exactly to a different photograph of West.

This image originally graced the cover of a 1967/68 Basketball magazine. In the photo, West wears a blue LA jersey. His posture and positioning undeniably match the logo. So why won’t the NBA acknowledge the correlation? Optimistic commentators agree that the league wants to underscore the universal significance of the logo, rather than the specific. We’ll cover a competing theory in a little bit.

The NBA logo’s history and design

First, let’s investigate the history of the NBA logo. It was designed in 1969 by a brand identity consultant, Alan Siegel. At the time, the NBA was trying to differentiate itself from its competitor, the American Basketball Association. The NBA Commissioner felt a compelling logo would give the NBA a big advantage in capturing the public’s attention and loyalty.

The image of West was chosen as the basis of the NBA logo because Siegel felt it best embodied the league’s dynamism and athleticism. The silhouette manages to convey power, movement, and grace all at once. Meanwhile, the red, white, and blue color scheme invokes a feeling of patriotism. In a way, this underscores the NBA’s position as America’s top basketball league.

What Jerry West thinks about being the NBA logo

So what does West really think about being the logo? He’s given conflicting takes on his status. On one hand, he has protested the logo from a position of modesty, telling ESPN in 2017, “I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself.” He even went so far as to say, “In many ways, I wish they would [change the logo].”

To a degree, that kind of thinking aligns with the NBA’s own position on the logo. The league and West would rather honor the NBA as a whole. Yet the NBA has an added financial incentive to insist that the logo doesn’t portray West. If they agreed about its origin with West, they would have to pay him royalties.

Despite the fact that it is widely known that the logo is an image of West, he’s never received a penny for it. In 2015, West addressed the issue in an interview with Grantland. “I think it would be nice to get a royalty off of that,” West said. “That would be pretty cool.”