When most casual fans see the NBA logo, they probably pay no mind to its history or even the inspiration behind it. That’s why this post is all about how Jerry West became the NBA logo.
The logo was based on the legendary Jerry West, one of the few individuals to excel in the league both as a player and an executive. Brand identity consultant Alan Siegel was tasked with the creation of the logo by then league commissioner J. Walter Kennedy. Kennedy wanted to portray basketball as American as apple pie. Siegel also worked on the MLB logo, which featured the red, white, and blue colors and a white silhouette of a player. During research for the logo, Siegel found a photo of West dribbling and took inspiration from it.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Siegel said, “It was perfect. It was vertical and it had a sense of movement. It was just one of those things that clicked.”
After around 50 samples, Kennedy selected the logo that fans around the world recognize. Although Siegel openly claims that West was the man behind the logo, the league never acknowledged that the NBA logo was based on West. This is why Jerry West never received any type of compensation related to the logo. Siegel had an interesting take on this.
He stated, “They [the NBA] want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it. It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”
Siegel was an avid basketball fan and was a star at Long Beach High on Long Island. Despite numerous basketball scholarship opportunities, he opted to enroll at Cornell University. After a year with the basketball team, he departed to focus on his academics. Ironically, one of his favorite players was West.
“I hate to say it’s not a Laker, but Michael Jordan. He’s been the greatest player I’ve ever seen. And I’m probably a harsh judge of talent in the sense that I admire players that are really good defensive players and really good offensive players. And I felt that at his time in the game, he was the best defensive player in the game, but more importantly, he was the best offensive player. And he made his teams win.”
Jerry West said he wants the NBA to change the logo… I don't know how you change it at this point but if they do… I say MJ lol
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) April 7, 2017
In an interview on ESPN,” Jerry West said, “I wish that it had never gotten out that I’m the logo. I really do. I’ve said it more than once, and it’s flattering if that’s me — and I know it is me — but it is flattering… Again, it’s flattering. But if I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I really would.”
When West was asked why this was embarrassing, he replied, “I don’t know, I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself, and when people say that, it’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.”
Siegel has a conflicting opinion regarding changing the NBA logo.
“I think something [the logo] that’s so well-known and symbolic of high-level basketball around the world, it would be a mistake to change it. It has significance and appeal because it’s historical. It doesn’t look like a modern player. It’s a classic image.”
With the untimely demise of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, there was a petition launched to change the logo to reflect him. On change.org, there have been approximately 3,240,000 signatures for this cause. If West was open to changing the logo to a player from a rival franchise, he will undoubtedly be more supportive of a fellow Laker great.
Kobe is definitely at the top of the list when considering who could be the inspiration for a new logo. Changing the logo to reflect the Black Mamba will encounter the same hurdles described above. Recognizing Bryant as the logo means the NBA will have to pay royalties for using his likeness.
Siegel mentioned that the league wanted the logo to represent the NBA as a whole, as an institution and not just one player. Also, it takes a great amount of time to build a logo immediately recognized by people from all walks of life. It seems the NBA logo that we know isn’t going anywhere.