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Jerry West hailed as ‘basketball genius’ following death aged 86

Basketball great Jerry West has died at the age of 86 (Clive Gee/PA)
Basketball great Jerry West has died at the age of 86 (Clive Gee/PA)

Jerry West has been described as a “basketball genius” and a “defining figure” in the NBA following his death at the age of 86.

West, whose silhouette is considered the basis of the NBA logo and was nicknamed “Mr Clutch” for his late-game exploits on the court, spent over six decades in the game as player, coach and team executive.

He was most closely associated with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he spent 14 years as a player, three as coach and 21 as an executive during which time he helped build the team’s great “Showtime” dynasty of the 1980s.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement: “Jerry West was 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.

“He was the league’s first Finals MVP and made rising to the occasion his signature quality, earning him the nickname ‘Mr Clutch’.

“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.

“He helped build eight championship teams during his tenure in the NBA – a legacy of achievement that mirrors his on-court excellence.”

The Lakers showed a picture of a smiling West on their social media with the words: “Honoring the legendary Jerry West.”

Current Lakers star LeBron James, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, wrote on X: “Will truly miss our convos my dear friend! My thoughts and prayers goes out to your wonderful family! Forever love Jerry! Rest in Paradise my guy! My mentor, My friend!

“Hopefully I continue to make you proud! You’re already missed!”

West was born in Chelyan, West Virginia, in May 1938 and became a basketball college star in his home state at West Virginia University.

He was a 14-time All-Star, a 12-time All-NBA selection, part of the 1972 Lakers team that won a championship, and a NBA finals MVP as part of a losing team in 1969.

West went into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1980 and again as a member of the 1960 US Olympic Team in 2010. He will be enshrined for a third time later this year as a contributor.

As a coach, he led the Lakers into the play-offs in his three seasons and a Western Conference final in 1977, but it was as the team’s general manager that he left a lasting legacy.

The Lakers won championship rings in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988 under coach Pat Riley and with superstar players such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

West rebuilt the Lakers in the 1990s and secured the draft rights to Kobe Bryant and signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal.

He also signed six-time NBA champion Phil Jackson as coach in 1999 before departing the Lakers the following year. The Lakers would go on to win three NBA titles from 2000 to 2002.

West went on to work at the Memphis Grizzlies (2002-07), Golden State Warriors (2011-17) and Los Angeles Clippers (2017-24).

In 2015, the Warriors won their first championship in 40 years and another in the 2016-17 season was West’s eight as a team executive.

“Jerry West was an incredible and unique individual, having accomplished immeasurable heights in the game of basketball,” the Warriors said on social media.

“He reached the absolute pinnacle of the sport as both a player and executive, something few can claim in the profession.

“He did so much for the NBA, the game of basketball and each of the teams he was associated with during his unmatched career, including the Warriors.

“Jerry had a profound and immense impact on our franchise and was instrumental in our recent decade of success.”

The LA Clippers, who announced West’s death, said “The world has lost an icon and a national treasure. We are simultaneously devastated and honoured to have witnessed the last chapter of Jerry West’s legendary career.”