Jerry West, NBA Legend and Hall of Famer, Dead at 86

West spent his entire NBA playing career with the Los Angeles Lakers and was responsible for bringing Kobe Bryant to the team in 1996

Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images
Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Jerry West, the Los Angeles Lakers legend who won an NBA championship in 1972 and helped bring Kobe Bryant to the team, has died at age 86.

The Los Angeles Clippers, where West served as an executive board member, confirmed his death and called him “the personification of basketball excellence and a friend to all who knew him” in a statement, according to KTLA.

West — born May 28, 1938, in West Virginia — became the third player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points and was named an All-Star every season of his 14-year career.

While West experienced tremendous success on the Lakers, the team famously made nine NBA Finals appearances and lost eight. West won his one and only NBA championship against the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals.

Thanks to his late-game heroics, West picked up the nickname "Mr. Clutch," a moniker that was reinforced when he made a 60-foot buzzer-beater to tie Game 3 of the 1970 Finals against the Knicks.

In 1969, West became the first (and only) player in history to be named NBA Finals MVP despite being on the losing team when the Lakers fell to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

West's performance impressed Celtics center Bill Russell during those Finals. After cementing Boston's victory, Russell said, "Los Angeles has not won the championship, but Jerry West is a champion."

Related: John Stamos Says Lakers Legend Jerry West Helped Him Prepare for His Role in Big Shot

Russell would continue to compliment West decades later, writing a touching letter to his former rival in 2021.

"The greatest honor a man can have is the respect and friendship of his peers," the letter to West read, according to The Athletic. "You have that more than any man I know. If I could have one wish granted, it would be that you would always be happy. Bill Russell."

West said the message from the Celtics legend was special to him.

"There's something uplifting (in) it, for me to hear this and read it. It was pretty special," he told The Athletic. "Today, in my life, it was probably one of the most meaningful things I've read from someone who I have great respect for."

After his retirement in 1974, he coached the Lakers for three seasons and earned a 145-101 record. He later became the team's general manager during the 1980s and was chosen to be the Lakers executive vice president in 1995.

Related: Jerry West Recalls How 'Rare' Kobe Bryant Was, Gets Emotional Over Vanessa's 2020 Christmas Card

Steve Grayson/WireImage
Steve Grayson/WireImage

A year later, West proved instrumental in trading Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Kobe Bryant, who they had just chosen with the No. 13 pick in the NBA Draft.

"We just fell in love with him. From the time we worked him out in Los Angeles, and particularly the second time we worked him out ... from then on was like, I love this, how do we get this guy?" West recalled in an interview with CNBC in 2021, following Bryant's death in a helicopter crash.

"I'll remember [Bryant] as someone that I loved like a brother," he continued. "The playful moments with him, some of the funny things and exchanges we had. Watching him when he first started to what he became."

"Mr. Clutch" was not the only nickname to be given to West. After his retirement, many referred to him as "The Logo" due to the NBA's logo being unofficially based on him.

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West had spoken out about his wish that the NBA would update the logo not to include him.

"I wish that it had never gotten out that I'm the logo, I really do," West told ESPN in 2017, via The Undefeated. "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."

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