The story of the NBA logo

NBA logo on wood

It was 1969. The National Basketball Association was locked in a bitter battle against its upstart rival, the American Basketball Association. At stake: fans, players, media — and millions of dollars.

The NBA turned to Alan Siegel, founder of Siegel+Gale.

Seeking inspiration, Siegel pored through the photo archives of Sport magazine. A particular photo of the All-Star Jerry West grabbed his attention: It was dynamic, it was vertical, it captured the essence of the game.

Jerry West NBA logo photoJerry West photo by the late Wen Roberts

NBA logo

The NBA is reluctant to acknowledge that it’s Jerry West in the logo, and Siegel, a lifelong basketball fan, believes he knows why.

“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it. It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern, through a spokesman, declines to comment, saying he doesn’t know whether West is on the logo.

“There’s no record of it here,” spokesman Tim Frank says.

Today, this classic image generates $3 billion a year in licensing, and the NBA name symbolizes the pinnacle of excellence in professional basketball.

That’s the brief version. Read more on the Siegel+Gale and LA Times websites.

Featured image via Michael Tipton.

59 responses

  1. No, sorry that logo’s dated and does nothing for me. Maybe because it’s not something I was brought up with but looking at it with ‘fresh’ eyes it’s derivative and very boring.

  2. Er–if the NBA logo is derived from a photo of Jerry West, doesn’t the NBA owe a little $omething to photographer Wen Roberts and to Mr. West?

    No wonder NBA spokesman Tim Frank says there’s no record at HQ.

  3. I love the fact that the logo was created in 1969 and it still stands just as strong over 40 years later. Why would you even slightly change it when it brings in that much money!!

  4. For a logo to last 40 years (so far) and become such a classic icon, just goes to show that it doesn’t need to change. I strongly disagree with it being boring, the logo captures basketball and one of the most easily recognisable logos in the world to date.

  5. Jerry west is my great uncle. Though I’ve never met him, from what I’ve read he deserves that logo. It doesn’t need to change and it does capture basketball.

  6. I know it sounds pretty ignorant but since I couldn’t remember I assumed this was the silhouette of Michael Jordan. How very womanly of me, right? Imagine my embarrassment and reluctance to accept the truth. :)

  7. @nathan, you would be right except for one very big detail — you missed Bob Cousy was a righty and couldn’t dribble with his left. It’s West, and it was confirmed by the person who created the damn thing. That is who the quote up above came from.

    • Google Bob Cousy and you will find half a dozen pictures of him dribbling with his left in two seconds. You think a hall of fame point guard couldn’t dribble with both hands?

  8. I am a tennis fan. The ATP (pro tennis governing body) had a similar logo for most of the 1980s. It portrayed the server in motion though “who” it was was not discernible. It was every bit as fluid, vertical and elegant as this Jerry West logo. Since then, they’ve screwed it up by having two replacement logos in the past 20yrs or so. Neither was as striking and effective as the original ATP logo, and that was inspired by the NBA one. This is a masterpiece of sports branding that should never be changed.

  9. I remember watching TV and when the games would come on the picture of Jerry West would convert to the NBA logo. It is a great logo but so is the Michael Jordan one. Give Mr West his props.

  10. This logo has one graphic design “no-no” – either place it on the edge or get it away from the edge. The bent arm is too close to the edge. It draws attention to it.

  11. I don’t understand how the designers themselves can say that it “IS” Jerry West. I mean clearly the image is not an exact replica. I understand saying the image was inspiration since it was the only one they found that they drew from, but there are several notable differences between the two images therefore you can’t really say the NBA logo IS Jerry West because the NBA logo is not the position West was captured in. Moreover, I’m pretty sure West is not the only basketball player in history to have dribbled in such a position. I wish I could upload photos as part of my comment because in high school game the local paper captured me in a similar position on a drive to the basket. While the image served as inspiration, the logo is really emblematic of thousands of players, not West himself.

  12. The logo is obviously Dolph Schayes and look how he lost his arm, coincidence? I think not. They would only change the logo to avoid paying the Schayes family royalties. That would put the Schayes over. And that would be a BIG problem. Think I’m joking? I’m not.

  13. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Done and done. That’s another thing that pisses me off nowadays. Jerry West was an outstanding player and paved the road for the players of today. And by the way there wasn’t a three point line when West was playing and a majority of his shots came from that range. So if there had been a three point line then his points record would be way more than what he earned without it.

  14. I find it rather peculiar that a sport continuously dominated by men of color that Jerry West was the choice for the NBA logo. With all due respect to Mr West, he is never in the conversation amongst true basketball aficionados of greatest of all time. What player has had the greatest global impact, earned the most revenue for the NBA and sits at the very top of the list as the greatest ever by common fans and analysts alike… there’s your player for the NBA logo.

  15. Robert Cunningham, your comment shows your limited knowledge of the history of the NBA. Although its true, for the most part that the NBA has been dominated by African Americans, Jerry West is unequivocally still one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He had one of the most deadliest jump shots the game has seen, very athletic, could score from anywhere including long distance (and there were no 3 point shots back then) and was a great defender. With the exception of Kobe Bryant (20 years in the NBA), Jerry West (14 years in the NBA) scored more points than any other Laker in history and is 8th on the list of the top 10 scorers in playoff history. I don’t know who you consider basketball aficionados but I have heard many basketball analysts mention Jerry West when talking about some of the greatest guards/players in NBA history and many of them believe he would be an allstar today and anybody that really knows the game knows that’s an accurate statement. You should know what you’re talking about before you make comments that will make you sound ignorant.

  16. Hugh, I will not resort to personal attacks, they only go to show ones inability to make sound arguments on the subject at hand. I stated facts. I never said he wasn’t ONE of the greatest to play the game. I said no one speaks of him as the greatest ever. To further make my point, Jerry West HIMSELF said in an interview with the Huffington Post that Michael Jordan’s likeness should be the NBA’s logo. “I hate to say it’s not a Laker, but Michael Jordan,” West told HuffPost Live’s Jordan Schultz.
    “He’s been the greatest player I’ve ever seen. And I’m probably a harsh judge of talent in the sense that I admire players that are really good defensive players and really good offensive players. And I felt that at his time in the game, he was the best defensive player in the game, but more importantly he was the best offensive player. And he made his teams win.

  17. Robert, I agree that Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the history of the NBA but that does not necessarily mean that the logo should be changed. That logo is not just about Jerry West, it exemplifies Professional Basketball in a very simplistic, yet elegant manner. As far as the comments that Jerry West made of the issue, of course he does not mind if the logo was changed. He’s a very humble man and he actually has stated many times that he feels uncomfortable when the spotlight is on him. Just as West wouldn’t have a problem with the logo being changed, Jordan doesn’t have a problem with the logo remaining the same. Jordan was once asked if he could play against any player from any era, who would it be…..his answer was Jerry West.

  18. Hugh, Jordan has SIX rings, turned the NBA into a MULTI billion dollar entity, was more than just the greatest…he brought life to the slam dunk contest, impacted ratings…NO ONE has meant more to the NBA. I looked all over for proof of Jordan wanting to play against Jerry West. I really couldn’t find it. Leads me to believe it was never said. Jerry West isn’t even the best Laker of all time. There’s Kobe, Magic…

  19. I’m well aware that Jordan has six rings. Bill Russell won 11 rings in 13 years, including 8 in a row but he played at a time when the media wasn’t nearly as strong. Jordan’s comment about West was definitely made. The comment was made many years ago so if I remembered the source, I would of given it to you. It might be in Jordan’s biography, can’t remember the title of the book. As far as bringing life to the slam dunk contest, if it wasn’t for Dr. J, Jordan would of never had that opportunity. As far no player has meant more to the NBA than Jordan, I can say the same thing about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird because they are the ones that truly brought the NBA back to life and gave players like Michael Jordan the opportunity to take it to the next level as far as ratings are concerned.

  20. By the way Robert, Jerry West is still the only player in NBA history to be the MVP in the finals on a losing team. The Celtics simply had too many weapons. West was in the finals 9 times and only won once. Championship rings matter, but greatness is not measured by how many rings you have.

  21. By the way, they changed the rules because of the Dipper.
    Wilt Chamberlain led to a number of rules changes in the NBA. (1) Like Russell, he caused the lane to be widened — and this time the NBA lane. His height/reach combo with his finger-roll ability was devastating, and by forcing him to start farther from the hoop, this was negated a bit. (2) Offensive goaltending, which Russell had gotten banned in the NCAA according to most sources, Chamberlain got banned in the NBA. (3) Chamberlain is also credited with rule changes regarding inbounding the ball (4) Perhaps most famously, a notoriously bad free-throw shooter (.511 lifetime), Wilt tried for a period a move where he’d leap from behind the free-throw line and release the ball after, attempting to improve his accuracy. He was not very successful with this, but the rule was changed anyway, requiring players to release the ball from behind the line.
    Wilt is in the conversation of most dominant. No one mentions Jerry West in that regard.

  22. I’m aware of all the statistics you’re mentioning… they have nothing to do with the original issue. I mentioned Russell’s rings simply because you had stated that Michael has 6 rings… that’s obvious but that’s not a good reason to change the logo. As I said before, if the logo was going to be changed, Magic, Bird and Dr J would be a more worthy candidate because without them, Jordan would of not had the same opportunities that he had. If Wilt had the heart and drive of Jerry West, West and Wilt would of had many more rings, and of course if Wilt would of been on the Lakers earlier, they both would have had more rings. Jordan’s comment about West was definitely made. Read Jordan’s book entitled “Rebound” and you will find it.

    • It’s funny how you ask me to do research but you don’t know what the stats were when Wilt and West won the championship together. Who was the MVP? But Wilt didn’t have heart? West is technically Mr. Failure. He got to the post season umpteen times and has one ring to show for it. Nine times in his 14 seasons West’s Lakers made the finals: They lost eight, the first six times to the Celtics. He got his only NBA title in the Lakers’ 1971-72 season. Without Chamberlain he would have ZERO rings.

  23. I do know what the stats were when they won together and I know that Wilt was the MVP. I also know that Gail Goodrich averaged more points than any other Laker that year. If you would of read my previous comments, you would have known that I already mentioned that West was in the finals nine times and and only won once. I also know that this has NOTHING to do with the NBA logo issue. AS I SAID BEFORE, MAGIC, BIRD AND DR. J WOULD BE MORE WORTHY CANDIDATES THAN JORDAN BECAUSE WITHOUT THEM, HE WOULD NOT OF HAD THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES HE HAD. ALSO, AS I SAID IN MY PREVIOUS COMMENTS, READ JORDAN’S BOOK “REBOUND” AND YOU WILL FIND PROOF THAT JORDAN DID IN FACT MENTION THAT THE FIRST PLAYER HE CHOSE TO PLAY AGAINST FROM ANY ERA WAS JERRY WEST.

  24. Typing entire sentences in upper case letters doesn’t make your weak points any stronger. Jordan is the ultimate competitor, so if he said that, it was to prove West would be another victim. You lost credibility when you stated Wilt had no heart. You started off insulting me and ended by disrespecting Wilt Chamberlain.

  25. I typed in upper case to make sure you could read my sentences because you were constantly repeating things that I had said in my previous comments. I’ll say it yet again, read the book “Rebound” and you will find that when Jordan made that comment, it meant nothing but praise for West and that Jordan likes great challenges and it did not mean that Jordan wanted to prove that West would be another victim. I did not disrespect Wilt, (although you’re constantly disrespecting West), I never said Wilt had no heart (go back and read what I said), I simply said that he did not have the heart and drive that West had and anyone that knows the history of the game knows that is an accurate statement. Jerry West was also the ultimate competitor. I’ve heard analysts compare Jerry West to Michael Jordan. Obviously, he does not have the size or athletic ability that Jordan or Kobe had but he was absolutely an equal when it comes to the clutch and being an ultimate competitor.

    • Wilt didn’t have the heart and drive West had but revolutionized the game. West says Kobe is the best Laker ever, but you are still riding Jerry’s jock strap. West admits he shouldn’t be the logo.

      • Wilt revolutionized the game because of his dominance. Has nothing to do with who has more heart.

        • You can’t dominate on size and strength alone. Ask Dwight Howard. It takes heart. You don’t score 100 points simply because you’re big. West knows he doesn’t belong… offered to suggest the best choice because he knows.

  26. You lose in the finals 8 times and win one. All-time great! I’m a Laker fan and a fan of Jerry. But all year I heard on the sports shows that if LeBron had went 2-4 it would destroy his legacy. I’m confused.

    • Good point Mark, doesn’t seem fair to me either. My guess is maybe the fact that he left Cleveland and then came back. Personally, I don’t think his would of been destroyed if he had went 2 & 4 but it certainly wouldn’t of helped it.

  27. It’s really a non-issue. It’s CLEARLY West. Anyone that doesn’t like it doesn’t truly have any respect for basketball or it’s history — see Robert Cunningham’s comment about men of color in his attempt to say that only black players are good players… LOL!

    Of course, with today’s ADD-crowd of sports fan for a league hyped up COMPLETELY with individual “superstars”, I’m sure the logo will be replaced at some point. But then again, who will really care all that much by that time for the #3/#4 pro sports league in the USA.

  28. No, Westsidebill…I didn’t “attempt” anything. I articulated my case as to why Jordan should be the logo with a sound logical argument and facts. There have been plenty of great caucasian players. Bird, Pistol Pete, Nash, etc… It just strikes me as funny when you go against the bs, you only think black players are good.

  29. Westsidebill, what Robert Cunningham fails to realize is that the Logo is not about who is the greatest Nba basketball player of all time or what Nba player brought in the most money….its much more than that.

  30. I grew up in the Era of Wilt and West (I am 68 and from NYC). I have only one statement: Jerry West is the very best clutch player that ever played basketball. Even if he wasn’t the logo model.

  31. I grew up being a huge N.Y. Knicks fan and my favorite player was Walt (Clyde) Frazier. Whenever we played the Lakers, Jerry West was a killer. He and Frazier were a great match up and I remember Jerry West as a deadly outside shooter, even against the great defense of Clyde.

  32. Iconic logo. Unmistakable. Does what it is supposed to do, and has stood the test of time. If it was taken from that image of Jerry “the logo” West (above), then why does the NBA logo have the right ear? Artist’s impression? Or maybe added so no royalties would have to be paid? Although I am unsure of the legalities surrounding such an issue back in 1969.

  33. Regarding Jerry West… I used to listen to the Warriors with the inimitable Bill King doing the play-by-play. I can remember several times over those years playing the Lakers when games would come down to the wire. Before the decisive play — which invariably went to West — King would basically declare the game over because of West’s uncanny ability to come through in the clutch. And King was never wrong.

    West had a great, great jump shot, and I never saw him miss a last shot when the game was on the line. Never.

  34. Here is my look on things:
    The NBA as far as I know is not looking to change the logo.
    It doesn’t matter if you think someone else should be the logo.
    The logo is iconic and has stood the test of time and could be any player.
    If the logo changed would you want an iconic player or just a general one everyone could look at and see all players not just the ones that put up the points. Because all players matter not just the high scoring ones.

  35. No one at the time had the game West had. He was known for that offensive move nobody did it better. NBA always promotes their superstars. If NBA created a logo today it would be MJ or LeBron.

  36. On a pregame radio show in the late 80’s this would be between 1986-1989, maybe 1990. Chick Hearn who was the announcer for the Laker team confirmed that the NBA Logo was indeed the image of Jerry West in response to a caller’s question. I remember because my father always told us that he thought the logo image was Jerry West, he had watched him for his entire career, he lived basketball. When the answer was given dad kept saying “I knew it, I knew it, I told you guys that” which he had always said he was sure it was Jerry West. I’d think with all of the years that Chick Hearn was with the Laker organization he would have known if the image was or was not Jerry West.

  37. It does not make any sense to necessarily create the logo from the image of the “best” player, when the “best” player is entirely subjective, but, equally important, changes from year to year anyway. It is not even clear the logo should contain any image of a person – it could just be a ball or a hoop or… whatever the logo artist has in mind.

    On a more objective note, I am constantly disappointed in the simple minded algorithm that rates individual players in team sports primarily by how many championships their TEAM won. It is a team game and a better team will almost always defeat an inferior team even if the best player is on the weaker team.

    For one quick example, look at the Buffalo Bills losing 4 consecutive Super Bowls. The winning QBs were: Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, and twice Troy Aikman. Does this mean Jim Kelly is inferior to all the above? Of course not. Only Troy Aikman is close (and his all time passer rating is 54th while Kelly’s is 37th).

    So the argument that Michael Jordan is “better” than Jerry West because of, or largely because of, his 6 rings vs. Jerry’s 1 is nonsensical. Especially so when you look at how close many of those series were, and even Boston players will tell you they got some fortunate breaks (Don Nelson’s shot off the back rim AFTER Keith Erickson knocked the ball away from Havlicek, and had a clear path down court for an easy layup which usually results from that play; Sam Jones’ winning hoist in Boston that hit every part of the rim before sinking through with no time on the clock; Baylor being called out of bounds at the Garden with seconds on the clock; there are so many where luck or fate was a big part). Clearly, the Celtics deserved most of those championships, and just as clearly the Lakers got some terrible breaks that easily could have given them one or two.

    Even more clearly, Jerry West did just about everything a human being can do in many of those games, even winning the MVP while being on the losing team. Listen to the Celtics after the last series in 1969 – Red Auerbach in particular (Bill Russell just held his hand and couldn’t find words, but his meaning was clear).

    There is of course a strong case for MJ as GOAT, but that has to do with his individual talents. But don’t forget the 3 point shot spread the court and opened up lanes for drives that didn’t exist in West’s day. Furthermore, if a modern game were officiated by refs from West’s day, the score (assuming the players did not adjust, which of course in real life they would) would be 0-0 with 200 turnovers from palming and travelling.

    To get a quick read on just how incredible West was on DEFENSE, go to Youtube and watch NBA All Star highlights from 1972 game. There is a span where West is like a man among boys, either stealing or deflecting almost every pass – and this is from all stars like Frazier and Havlicek! They did not keep steal stats during West’s career, but according to the stat men of the day, West would be the all time leader by a wide margin.

    • Oh, and I should also mention that West didn’t just steal or deflect almost every pass from All Star players, he also blocked several shots, another stat that wasn’t documented during his day. He would be the all time leader among guards for that stat too.

      As an aside, the announcer (Keith Jackson, I think) didn’t even see or acknowledge some of the blocks and steals West got because they were so unexpected. “Frazier gets the ball knocked away….or Hudson loses the ball” were West blocks or deflections that Jackson didn’t pick up exactly why the ball went the way it did.

      That slyness, quickness, and deception, along with West’s notorious deflection of the limelight and credit, are reasons why, as great as he was, he is under rated. He is looked at primarily as a jump shooter because he was so great at it, and it was easy to see.

      One uninformed poster previously called him a one-handed dribbler. Just watch the game winning shot in that 72 all star game (or thousands of other clips) where West went left much of time on his way to the game winning shot against the 2nd best defensive guard in the game, Walt Frazier.

  38. The logo was created in 1969 by a designer and former high school basketball star named Alan Siegel, who told the Los Angeles Times in 2010 that none of the “40 or 50 designs” he showed Kennedy featured anyone other than West. A childhood friend of the legendary sports reporter Dick Schaap, Siegel was allowed access to Sport magazine’s photo archives and found what he wanted in a photo by Wen Roberts.

  39. “It had a nice flavor to it,” Siegel told the Times, “so I took that picture, and we traced it. It was perfect. It was vertical and it had a sense of movement. It was just one of those things that clicked.”

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