Beyond the logo: Driven by losses, Jerry West's NBA legacy will last forever

Jerry West was driven by losses. The defeats in the NBA Finals gnawed at him.

“Those losses scarred me, scars that remain embedded in my psyche,” West wrote in his autobiography West by West: My Charmed and Tormented Life. “After the sixth and final defeat (to the Boston Celtics) in 1969, I wanted to quit basketball in the worst way. … The main reason I wanted to walk away from basketball was that I honestly didn’t think I could endure any more pain.”

But Jerry West was not a loser.

He didn’t stop playing basketball after his and the Los Angeles Lakers’ sixth consecutive Finals loss to the Celtics in the 1960s. He didn’t stop playing when the New York Knicks delivered West his seventh consecutive Finals loss. Of those seven Finals losses, four were seven-game series.

The heartache compounded. But he came back for more. He came back to try and win a championship. And he finally did win in 1972.

West was a force who never left the NBA once he got there – a Hall of Famer as a player, as part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team and he will go in again later this year as a contributor to the game. He touched generations of teams and players, had a firm understanding and vision of greatness and teams and players sought West’s input including LeBron James who talked to West about winning and losing.

West, who died Wednesday at 86 years old, wanted to win – maybe not more than anyone else but as much as anyone else – and the losses he absorbed in the NBA Finals season after season after season fueled his competitive drive.

He never lost that desire to win. Not as a player and not as a front-office executive. His imprint as a shooting guard and builder of teams remains visible in today’s NBA.

Jerry West at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game.
Jerry West at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game.

“He was absolutely my basketball sage: wise, loyal and so much fun,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “If you were in his presence, you felt his competitiveness and his drive. He cared about everything and everyone. From the first day I met Jerry seven years ago, he inspired me with his intellect, honesty and enthusiasm.”

West is remembered not only as an all-time great player (his silhouette is the NBA logo!) and executive, but as the greatest combination of player and front-office exec in NBA history and possibly sports history.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called West “a basketball genius and a defining figure in our league for more than 60 years. He distinguished himself not only as an NBA champion and an All-Star in all 14 of his playing seasons, but also as a consummate competitor who embraced the biggest moments. … Jerry’s four decades with the Lakers also included a successful stint as a head coach and a remarkable run in the front office that cemented his reputation as one of the greatest executives in sports history.”

After his playing days, he tried coaching and spent three seasons on the Lakers’ bench. He became a scout and then the Lakers’ general manager in 1982. Though he inherited a team that won the 1982 title and featured Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the court and Pat Riley as coach, West sought roster improvements. He drafted James Worthy and A.C. Green and acquired Mychal Thompson and Byron Scott. The Lakers won titles in 1985, 1987 and 1988.

West wasn’t done after Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar retired. In the 1990s, he traded for Shaquille O’Neal and made a draft day deal with Charlotte to get Kobe Bryant. And he hired Phil Jackson as coach, and the Lakers won another title in 2000. West left for Memphis in 2000 but the Lakers won titles in 2001 and 2002 – and West’s influence even after he left was undeniable.

He turned Memphis into a winning franchise, going from 28 victories in his first season as general manager to 50 victories in his second. He joined Golden State as an advisor to ownership, and since 2017, he has had a similar role.

West needed the game, and the game needed him, and there will never be anyone like him. He is an NBA original.

No one lost quite like him. And no one won quite like him.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jerry West's legendary NBA legacy goes far beyond logo