Jerry West made four All NBA teams during his 14 NBA seasons. GETTY IMAGES

The legendary guard, coach and general manager, who died at age 86 on Wednesday, endured early-life torments that never quite dissipated; but he managed to overcome both on and off-the-court grief to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to prominence and earn a spot among the all-time basketball greats.

Besides 'The Logo', he also got the nickname 'Mr Clutch', yet for a long time Jerry West was known as the superstar who could smell the cigar but never really quite taste it: he lost in seven straight NBA Finals appearances, mostly to the longtime nemesis Celtics, even being named Most Valuable Player in a losing effort in 1969, the only time such an honour was not bestowed upon a champion. His keep-it-close-to-the-vest demeanour estranged him to some and his career balanced the personal pride of individual achievement with major whiffs at collective success, as his Lakers failed repeatedly against the mighty Boston rivals of Bill Russell, who went on to win 13 titles from 1957 to 1976.

His light frame compared to other stars of the time like Oscar Roberston or John Havlicek did not impede him from finding ways to score among the basketball giants, as he displayed a deft shooting touch, quickness, wits and ability to navigate the court with an eye towards open teammates and enough hand coordination to hit them in stride. It was a mesmerising playing style that endeared him to fans and earned him enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first as a player in 1980, then as a member of the gold medal-winning 1960 US Olympic Team in 2010. A day after the Rome Games, where the team that also featured Robertson, Terry Dischinger and John Lucas went 8–0, with West averaging 14.1 points, he joined the Lakers out of West Virginia University.

It is also believed that his silhouette is the one that inspired the NBA’s now-famous logo back in 1969, and both the league, the graphic designer who created it and West himself have done little since to dispel that notion, despite modern-day critics arguing that the image had become outdated, out of touch with today’s basketball landscape, dominated by African-American players.

But West’s influence on the game, both during his playing days and later as a coach and executive went far beyond his mysterious status as the league’s chosen athletic ideal: an elegant dribbler in motion. Despite his many late-game heroics with Los Angeles and unquestionable accolades, like averaging 27 points a game for his career, ranking fourth among retired players in all-time scoring or making the NBA’s All-Star team in each of his 14 seasons, he made his real mark in the Lakers front office, helping the team make the transition at the turn of the Century and dominate the post-Michael Jordan era.

With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson long gone from the California franchise and the NBA throne vacant after the great Chicago Bulls dynasty years in the 90s, West manoeuvred skilfully as a general manager to pry stud centre Shaquille O’Neal from the Orlando Magic and hit the jackpot in the 1996 Draft, trading for the rights to select high-schooler Kobe Bryant, a risk-heavy move back then that netted the franchise five championships from 2000 to 2010.

After finally winning the title as a player in 1972 against the New York Knicks, he savoured eight total as a GM, having helped build the 'Showtime' Lakers of the 1980s by also drafting Johnson and star forward James Worthy, among many others. For such achievements as an executive and a consultant, West is set to be enshrined a third time in the Basketball Hall of Fame later this year.

Jerry West made four All NBA teams during his 14 NBA seasons. GETTY IMAGES
Jerry West made four All NBA teams during his 14 NBA seasons. GETTY IMAGES

His characterisation as a tormented, tantrum-driven Lakers employee in the recent HBO series 'Winning Time', which depicted the 'Showtime' squad’s run to prominence, was inaccurate by his own account and the club’s, who complained to producers. He did admit past dealings with depression in his memoir, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life", writing that his childhood was devoid of love and filled with anger because of his father's abuse.

When asked in a 2021 interview about possibly inspiring the NBA logo, West downplayed its significance. "I’m just part of the game. I never wanted to be any more than that. I’m extremely fortunate to have had the life that I’ve had, and that’s enough for me," he said.

He was, despite no official recognition from the league, the mould that shaped one of the sports world's most recognizable images. As for the game itself, West was much more than just part of it. His retired number 44 jersey, which hangs from the Crypto Arena rafters, and the statue outside the Lakers home court are proof of his legacy’s imprint on the basketball world. He defined an era, for sure, and most definitely helped shape the ones that followed.