On Wednesday, June 12, 2024, the NBA lost a huge icon of the sport in Jerry West, the Los Angeles Lakers legend who put a stamp on the game both as a player and as an executive. West, who served as the inspiration of the association's timeless logo, had passed away at the age of 86. His legacy throughout his 64 years as a legend of the game will live on forever, as he was one of the pioneers who pushed the boundaries of the game.

West was not afraid to take risks, and this led to the immense success he had in every stop of his throughout his illustrious career. But no risk he took may have been more precarious than the one he took as the Lakers' general manager during the 1996 offseason. Fresh off a 53-win season, the Lakers saw an end of an era after Magic Johnson decided to retire for good. They still had a nice core of Vlade Divac, Eddie Jones, and Nick Van Exel, but West saw an opportunity to lift the Lakers back to championship heights after stagnating over the past few seasons.

Jerry West's plan required a ton of patience, however. After all, he had just put all of the Lakers' eggs in the basket of an 18-year old guard coming out of Lower Merion named Kobe Bryant, trading away starting center Vlade Divac, someone who averaged 13-9-3 in 1996, to the Charlotte Hornets for the 13th overall pick of that year's draft.

The Lakers had supreme confidence that Shaquille O'Neal, a 27-13 beast during his days with the Orlando Magic, was going to join them in free agency, so they had no qualms about trading away their starting center over the past six seasons. But to do so in exchange for an unproven 18-year old guard out of high school? That took some guts. But courage was something West had in spades.

West had to sell O'Neal on the idea that Kobe Bryant was going to emerge as one of the best players in the league eventually. But doing so wasn't particularly difficult. After all, West had earned his reputation for being one of the best decision-makers and talent evaluators the league has ever seen. Surely enough, Bryant improved year after year, and by his fourth season, the Lakers were a championship team, and from 2000 to 2002, they stood tall on the league's totem pole, with Bryant and O'Neal forming arguably the best duo in NBA history.

Bryant had perhaps the most legendary work ethic the league has ever seen, and his incredible competitive spirit made him an icon who stands for so much more than himself even after he unfortunately passed in January 2020. The Black Mamba would have been a Hall of Famer regardless of which team he ended up on, but thanks to Jerry West, it was the Lakers franchise that benefitted from Bryant's illustrious career that spanned two decades.

Lakers legend Jerry West redefined greatness

Jerry West was ahead of his time as a basketball player; he was shooting long-range jumpers way before they counted for three points. It took a while for the Lakers to win a championship with West (he was in his 12th season when he did break through), but it was through no fault of his own, as he put up 27-6-7 during his career while averaging 29-6-6 in the postseason.

West remains the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award on a losing team, and deservedly so, as he averaged 38-5-7 in a hard-fought seven-game series against the Boston Celtics. But beyond his greatness as a player, his career as an executive was so much better.

He won eight championships as an executive, with four of those coming with him being the Lakers' general manager. (He was a scout for the Lakers for three seasons before he took over the reins as GM in 1982.) West had a hand in bringing in Magic Johnson in 1979, although Johnson was the consensus top pick during that year, so it was hard to miss out on him.

The Logo also brought in James Worthy and constructed the Showtime Lakers, all the while being the man responsible for putting Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal together in what eventually became a three-peat-winning team.

But his greatness as an executive does not stop with the Lakers. He took over as the Memphis Grizzlies' general manager in 2002, helping turn around a franchise that hadn't yet experienced a winning season and transforming them into a playoff team. The Grizzlies improved from 28 wins in his first season to 50 the season after, and he missed out on the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, which was LeBron James, in a lottery night heartbreak.

The Grizzlies experienced three straight winning seasons under West's watch, although they failed to win a single playoff game during that stretch. But still, West's ability to identify talent and how to make the pieces come together to form a winning team remained evident. In fact, it reached the point where West's cachet nearly drew Kobe Bryant to the Grizzlies; in 2004, Bryant reached free agency and, according to West, reached out to the Grizzlies with the desire to play for his former general manager.

West, however, told Bryant to stay in LA, saying that he belonged there. Bryant heeded West's advice, and eventually, the Lakers were able to pair Bryant with Pau Gasol, the star player he would have played with had he actually signed with the Grizzlies.

In 2007, West left the Grizzlies, and it wasn't until 2011 when Jerry West joined the Golden State Warriors as an executive board member. West, however, still had an influence on the team's roster decisions. In 2014, the Warriors had an opportunity to trade Klay Thompson away for Kevin Love. Love was an All-NBA player 10 years ago, while Thompson, despite already being one of the league's best marksmen, was still finding his All-Star footing.

West, however, opposed the idea of trading away Thompson, deeming him to be the perfect fit alongside Stephen Curry. Once again, West had the foresight; Thompson covered for some of Curry's defensive deficiencies while being one of the best movement shooters the league has ever seen. The Splash Brothers ended up being arguably the greatest backcourt in history, and if it weren't for West, the Dubs would have missed out on a decade of backcourt greatness.

Simply put, there will never be another Jerry West, who made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame three times for his contributions to the sport. Rest in peace, legend.