There Have Been Many Faces of the NBA, But Only One Logo

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There Have Been Many Faces of the NBA, But Only One Logo

A conversation that never quite departs NBA podcast and newsletter circles is the idea of a “face of the league.” Lebron, Durant, and Curry are aging out of the argument, so who is next? Who can carry on a public torch that has been variably and largely inarguably held by Bird and Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, and so on? These days the conversation dances around Luka Dončić, or Jayson Tatum, or Anthony Edwards. It feels a bit futile, though, to argue about faces in the same universe as The Logo.

Jerry West, who died on Wednesday at age 86, had such perfect dribbling form — and shooting, and everything else, apparently — that the league coopted his silhouette to be the NBA’s actual logo. (The NBA has never officially acknowledged this; too bad the guy who designed it has.)

How does any subsequent face measure up? Only Jordan’s iconic dunk pose and overall unparalleled degree of fame come close, but the fact that it got famous as a brand (not that the NBA isn’t a business; but it ostensibly sells basketball rather than shoes) feels vaguely disqualifying. There have been some other classic poses — Dirk’s fadeaway, Kareem’s sky hook, or, what the hell, Mutombo’s finger wag — but generally teams and the league have been content to immortalize these in statues outside arenas. The Logo remains The Logo.

Another common debate that crops up during the NBA Finals every June centers around the possibility of a losing player winning the Finals MVP award. When Lebron was toiling against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018, say, or even this year as Luka proves to be the only Maverick capable of hitting a shot in the face of stifling Celtics defense — what if a player is just so good, and so clearly why that team is even in the Finals in the first place, that it seems silly to bestow the trophy on anyone else?

There are lots of days off during the Finals; gotta talk about something.

It never happens, of course. The few voters tasked with picking an MVP invariably side with the winning team — except once. On a 1969 Lakers team that also featured Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, Jerry West averaged nearly 38 points per game in a seven-game losing effort to the Celtics. They gave him the trophy anyway.

This is more or less quintessential West, at least as far as his playing years go. He made Finals after Finals — nine of them — only to see the Celtics loom in front of him like some malign swamp monster. He eventually won a single title at the tail end of his career, in 1972. Among retired players, he still has the fourth-highest scoring average of all time — behind only Jordan, Wilt, and Elgin Baylor (four active players are ahead of him right now — Luka, Embiid, Durant, Lebron — though many non-Lebron players hang on a bit too long and see their scoring averages dip); in the playoffs, he got two points per game better, and only Jordan and Iverson scored more.

That he enjoyed so much more success after his playing days were over — after the one ring as a player, he was a part of eight championships in various executive roles — seems almost like an afterthought given his actual game’s staying power. NBA fans can recognize the prettier jumpshots out there easily: show us a silhouette version of Devin Booker’s shot, or Klay Thompson’s, or, obviously, Steph Curry’s, and our brains would fill in the faces and the jerseys without much effort at all. But imagine how pretty you have to be to just dribble, just run and bounce a ball, and end up the real face of the league forever.

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