Hidden in the photo archives of SPORT magazine, Alan Siegel found the inspiration for the National Basketball Association logo.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West was dribbling left. He looked determined and elegant — a still of a high-speed in-motion play. To Siegel, the picture taken by Wen Roberts encapsulated the beauty of basketball.
The logo is still in use over 50 years later.
How Did Jerry West Become the NBA Logo?
In 1969, NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy assigned Siegel — a brand identity consultant at the time — the duty of designing a fresh logo to differentiate the product from the American Basketball Association.
Kennedy wanted a similar logo to the MLB’s red-white-and-blue design featuring a silhouette of a player, which Siegel had supervised the previous year. He considered Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain before landing on West.
Siegel created a logo that’s ubiquitous with the league to this day.
It’s not hard to deduce the logo is West. Comparing the picture and the logo doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, the NBA hasn’t acknowledged it.
If the league recognizes the logo is West, they would have to front a pretty penny. In 2018-19, the last traditional season before the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 outbreak, the NBA banked roughly $8.76 million in revenue. West would certainly have a right to the pie.
But does he want to?
In 2017, the former NBA player appeared on ESPN’s The Jump to share his feelings as the logo:
“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. … If I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I really would. … I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself … 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.”
Following Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna’s tragic death in a January 2020 helicopter crash, three million fans signed an online petition on Change.org to make the Black Mamba the new NBA logo. There have also been cases made for superstar basketball players Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Steph Curry to take the mantle.
The NBA has no real incentive to change the logo. It’s the face of the league’s brand, even if that face is anonymous. If they were to acknowledge the West’s silhouette, it would work for imaging purposes.
West is one of the greatest players in NBA history. He’s a 14-time NBA All-Star with an NBA Finals MVP, NBA title, 13 playoff appearances, an Olympic gold medal, and is an all-time West Virginia high school basketball star. The 1980 Hall of Fame inductee has stayed involved in the game after his playing career as general manager for the Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies; as well as in a front office role with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The chances of this happening are slim to none. Former NBA commissioner David Stern declined any knowledge regarding West on the logo.
“There’s no record of it here,” spokesman Tim Frank says.
It’s a business after all.